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March 8, 2021

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Diversity

A ‘paradigm shift’ for women in the security industry: “A pandemic demands empathy and strength in leadership”

Francesca Boeris, Managing Director Comelit Group UK, provides an insight into her ambitions to spearhead efforts to improve equality in the fire and security industry, using her experience of operating in a company that is “passionate, ambitious and comprised of forward-thinking leaders”.  Francesca highlights the importance of leaders who can demonstrate strength alongside empathy, especially through a pandemic when resilient leadership, regardless of gender, is most desired.

In a world where you can be anything, be someone who uses your voice to make a difference.

In August 2020, set against a global pandemic, Silvia Brasi was appointed as Comelit’s first female president and Chairperson of the Board of Directors.  She accepted the position, saying: “This is a great responsibility, especially in a difficult moment for the world economy due to the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

She continued: “I am firmly convinced that our company has the resources to react, as it is already doing, and to return to the trend of growth and continuous expansion that has distinguished us during these years. People are the most important resource we have and we want to count on to look with positivity and courage at the future.”

Across the industry, security is still very male-dominated, and although it is progressing on its journey of balanced representation, with highlights including the Professional Security Magazine Women in Security Awards, it can be quite traditional in its outlook.

This pervasive culture can be tackled by celebrating the contribution that women are making, and inspiring the next generation. The skills gap still presents a real challenge across security, technology, engineering, manufacturing (etc.), so ensuring that we are drawing from the full talent pool, regardless of gender (or indeed any other identities/characteristics) is critical.

Driving inclusion

I am committed to growing with my team and our business, and using my position and leadership to drive inclusion and innovation in the world of smart technology. Part of that vision is to arrive in a place where it is no longer novel to have a woman appointed to a leadership role, so that we can focus on more important things than gender. And I do believe we’re starting to see that paradigm shift.

Comelit for one, alongside many of our customers and competitors, all of who I have close working relationships, has always had a humanist approach at the centre of its vision. This translates to our focus on our employees, our product development, in our supply chain, our partnerships with installers – in absolutely everything we do.

“Regardless of gender, we have re-evaluated our leadership qualities to incorporate traditionally what may have been seen as more ‘feminine’ traits. Yet suddenly, they have become one of the most valuable assets any leader can possess.”

In this respect, it is the focus on a chosen career and hard work, to achieve results.  This is something I am immensely proud of working towards, having joined Comelit Group UK in 2009 as Business Development Manager, and quickly being promoted to Sales Director and then appointed as Managing Director in 2015.

I will admit that at times throughout my career, when dealing with the industry-at-large, I have felt the pressure of being a woman when every other seat at the table is filled by a man. Other industry female leaders have written about the nuances of being a woman in the top job – being accused of being ‘too soft’ or ‘too sensitive’, or on the flipside of the coin, appearing inauthentic by trying to be ‘like one of the boys.’ Or even worse, described as over compensating for being a woman.

So what has changed?

If ever there has been a period when leadership skills have been tested and scrutinised (whatever the leader’s gender), it has been through the coronavirus pandemic.

Here, being a Managing Director is a big responsibility and I’ve undoubtedly had sleepless nights wondering whether I am doing enough for my Comelit family.

But during those sleepless hours, I realised the pandemic has necessitated empathy from all leaders, regardless of gender. And an underlying trust in a team to get their job done, in full realisation of family and recently homeschooling commitments, is key to our working as a team to get achieve combined success.

Leading the way, Edoardo Barzasi, the CEO of Comelit Group has remained supportive throughout the pandemic through our Group communications. In a recent message, he said: “Let us hold on and wait for the storm to pass. Sooner or later the sun always shines again and we will be there. It’s a promise!”

Having a strong leader who isn’t afraid to demonstrate empathy helps me to have confidence in my own compassion.

Empathy and strength in leadership

In the fire and security industry, we may be few in number, but I am proud to champion a number of female inspirational leaders. And I would stretch further to proudly show that is not just a sweeping statement, but something I take comfort in knowing I have their support.

Another more widely known leader I admire is Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand. She talks of being “proudly focused on empathy, because you can be both empathetic and strong.” These are two qualities that some people still believe can’t co-exist in a leader – and empathy in particular is something that some female leaders are afraid to exhibit.

I’ve applied my learning from these role models to my own response to the pandemic. For example, our Friday meetings are there simply to offer reassurance, motivation and a chance to reflect, in an open, trusting environment.

The whole team has had to learn how to work from home, and to continue to juggle operational excellence alongside (and sometimes at the same time as) their family life. We’ve often had guest appearances from both pets and children at our meetings and it has been welcomed! If anything, the pandemic has strengthened the ‘family feel’ of our company culture.

Comelit’s Secur Hub

I believe it is because of this supportive environment that we’ve been able to continue to deliver for our customers, and have even been able to continue innovating.  For example, we’ve continued with product launches, introducing Ultra and Secur Hub to the market. And, we demonstrated our commitment to innovation and compliance in fire safety, recently achieving the stringent EN54-13 standard.

We also went above and beyond maintaining operational excellence and service, with the team coming together to complete our ‘Italian Jog’. We ran, walked and cycled the equivalent miles from our Luton offices to our HQ in Lorenzo di Rovetta, Italy, raising a significant amount of money for our NHS Heroes.  This was a great way to keep up moral, motivation and bring everyone together, again, cementing the family feeling within the Comelit team.

These achievements are testament to the dividends paid by bringing a fresh perspective to the table, which can only be achieved by having a more diverse workforce.

In summary, the pandemic arguably has realigned values, and instigated a paradigm shift in what we value in our leaders. Regardless of gender, we have re-evaluated our leadership qualities to incorporate traditionally what may have been seen as more ‘feminine’ traits. Yet suddenly, they have become one of the most valuable assets any leader can possess.

We have welcomed a unity of working, to paraphrase Comelit’s mantra ‘in business together,’ not only as a unit, but as a team inclusive of everything this represents, incorporating our family, customers and even competitors. This way, we have looked forward to a new way of working in the future, in mutual respect of the challenges we have all overcome.

If I may end with a quote from an actress whom I equally admire in her determination to readdress the issues raised with feminism. Emma Watson said: “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.”

 

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