She’s a CEO, a management consultant, a director, a program manager and so much more! With experience in programme delivery, change management, business engagement and leadership, Francesca Valli is our advisor, mentor and sounding board! On the occasion of Women’s Day, we celebrate her and all her contributions to the technology world. She strongly believes one can never be done learning and her constant energy and enthusiasm is an inspiration to us all .

What does the International Women’s Day slogan “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights” mean for you in your work life?
Having been through many International Women’s Days in my life, I am happy the event – and its slogan – retain the energy and bring the necessary focus to women’s rights. However, I am still dismayed that we need to remind the world that equality for women is still not here. Look at women in power (industry, business, politics, governmental organisations), how many women hold the key positions? Look at women’s pay. Are we really equal there?

Can you tell us a bit about where you work?
I work in management consulting, as a freelancer, having built my own skills and competencies over many years of hard work, smart decisions over where my career ought to go. Typically I work at the client’s offices, multi-national organisations, leading large scale transformation programmes underpinned by technology. Leadership, technology plus a global workforce – my ideal environment.

As a young girl growing up, did you want to work in the technology industry?
As a girl growing up, family and socially speaking, had so little expectations of me, precisely because I was a girl, that I can’t really say I had any sense of where I would want to work. Because I come from a culture – and a generation – where technology is not expected to be part of what you do, this certainly drove my career choices as a young adult. I wanted to be there.

In your opinion, why is it important that more women join the technology sector in the very near future?
In our world, in our society, technology is power. If I think about the artificial intelligence that is being built and that will dominate – or certainly impact – most aspects of our life, I think it is crucial that women are there, at the forefront of building the code, precisely so that gender prejudices that might be inbuilt into code are actually built out of it.

What do you think is the biggest issue today facing women of your age?
The biggest issue, I would say, is ageism. I speak to many women who tell me that, as a woman in their 50s, especially in countries like Italy, are told they are too old to apply for positions. All my life, my efforts, my attitude, my demeanour are aimed at rejecting that. I am in my 60s. I have many decades of productive life ahead of me and, by god, I intend to live them out fully! Besides, the experience one accumulates in one’s life is worth more than any loss in energy or dynamism that one might experience through age (I haven’t!)

When you’re not being awesome at work, where are we likely to find you?
You are finding me in many places! I operate on many different fronts. Apart from other work-related roles, whereby I operate as a NED (Non-Executive Director), or I write on my field. I also support a number of charities that work against violence to women and children. To them I bring my work experience and make them feel my strong belief that what they do matter. Oh.. and you are also going to find me swimming or at a cinema near you too!

If there was one thing in the world you could change, what would that be?
The right to go to school for girls in those countries where this is not granted, where, for example, through early marriage and pregnancy they are effectively shut out of the education system. Equal rights for girls everywhere, yes. One of the saddest statistics I have ever heard, through an organisation I support, is that, in the tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004, many more women and girls died simply because they couldn’t swim, they were never thought to swim. How terribly sad is that?

“It is absolutely essential for women to lift each other up and to be very conscious that this needs to be done. Do not expect that your work environment might give equal opportunity because they chose you to be the CEO. That is not enough. When I recruit for the projects I lead, I always ask large organisations such as global system integrators the question; ‘Does your company have an equal opportunity policy?’ Nobody ever answers no, of course, but you ought to check their words are matched by deeds. This should reflect in the balanced, more equal team they put forward”


Can you remember the day you sent your first instant message and to whom you sent it?
I cannot remember my first message but I do remember having my first mobile in 1995. And I also remember the first mainframe computer I used, the first PC, the first business system, the first dial-up to the Internet!

It would be rude of us not to ask, if you could choose one awe inspiring woman to send a unique instant message to this International Women’s day, anyone at all, who would you choose?
My mind tells me to DM Ada Lovelace, who worked on the early prototype of the computer, or Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize, who had amazing insight on the working of the brain in later age. My heart tells me to DM Jane Austen: a brilliant, witty, wonderful author ‘Hey Jane, ever thought you could screen-write for Netflix? They NEED YOU.

Shagun Sahni

Author Shagun Sahni

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