Businesswoman Paola Diana is the founder of high-end concierge service Sigillus. But she’s also championing the cause of equal rights for women across the globe.
My mother was a strong character but she didn’t inspire me and she isn’t the reason I am the person I am today,” says Paola Diana, an Italian-born entrepreneur and equal rights campaigner. “In fact, she inspired me to be the opposite of her. She was very traditional and so I grew up thinking that I didn’t need a husband and I didn’t have to quit my job for my kids.”
The 41-year-old single mother now lives in London with her two teenage children and travels regularly between her offices in Notting Hill, Rome, Milan and Dubai where she partnered with a local firm who oversee her boutique lifestyle company Sigillus in the UAE. Sigillus offers high-end lifestyle concierge services to the world’s elite, everything from organising private viewings for art collectors to securing rare artwork for clients to providing security services.
Diana is a firm believer that having a working mother benefits both parent and child, “Children need a strong role model and that comes with seeing their mother working outside of the home,” she told Global Citizen.
And this school of thought certainly played into her first business venture, Nanny & Butler, which she launched a decade ago in Rome after she struggled to find a British nanny for her own children, Eduard and Sophie, who were seven and four at the time. In the decade since launching the high-end nanny and household staff agency, she has seen a 60 per cent increase in demand for nannies in London, where the average annual salary for live-in help is $43,000, climbing up to $3,000 per week at the higher end of the scale.
The entrepreneur recently took part in a British documentary for Channel 4 called Too Posh to Parent described as an inside look at the parental outsourcing available for the super wealthy, where she explained the evolving role of women in today’s society. “Women want freedom away from motherhood. Even if they don’t have a career they might be involved in charity work, have an intense social life or want to travel with their husband,” she explained. She also believes that hiring a nanny “is the key to restoring harmony in a marriage”.
Diana says her latest enterprise, Sigillus, differs to other well- known lifestyle concierge services by their bespoke approach, and she plans to maintain the “family office” feel even as the company expands globally.
“We know our clients very well, we know their kids and what their needs are so we manage their lifestyle in all senses.” Diana wouldn’t disclose corporate membership fees, saying only that they were “tailor-made” depending on a company’s needs, but for individuals she said they offered a three tiered membership option with the most expensive being gold, which costs just under $100,000 per year followed by platinum and silver. So what does this gilded membership get you? “Open doors to VIP events and private members clubs whether its in LA or London,” according to Diana, but of course there is often a separate fee to actually get through the door of these events. Aside from running Sigillus, Diana who holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in Communications from the university of Bologna in Italy, is a tireless campaigner for female welfare and employment rights. She founded PariMerito (meaning Equal Merit in English), a network and think tank that lobbies and campaigns for female empowerment via policy change across sectors in Italy.
She was instrumental in getting a law passed in Italy that stipulated that women must make up 30 per cent of every boardroom in the country. Norway is the only other country with a similar law, where they require 40 per cent of company boards to comprise of females. She says the European commission is currently studying the Italian landmark decision as a case study and she is hopeful that it will soon be integrated into European law.
“This law should be implemented everywhere because we are facing a monopoly against women in society, especially in powerful positions, it’s so difficult for women to break this glass ceiling,” she said. Adding, “The law should represent the other half of the population, women can think differently to men and we can add diversity and a different perspective to every situation in every country.”
Proving that she can do it all — with the help of a nanny of course, Diana has penned her first book, The Salvation of The World, which looks at the role of women throughout history and while she’s satisfied that the course of history is likely to change imminently with the election of Hillary Clinton as the first female President of the United States, meaning that for the first time in history there would be female leaders running three of the world’s superpowers, it isn’t good enough.
Speaking about the possibility of having female leaders in power in the US (at the time of going to print), Germany and Britain simultaneously, she said, “I’m very happy about that and I’m sure it will change for the better in the future but of course three is not enough, its not just in politics that we need more female leaders, there should be more women in top positions in finance, at the top of banks and at the top of universities.”
When asked to address the argument that people should be employed on merit as opposed to gender, she pointed to the gender gap in society. “Our politicians have a duty to fill this gap and stand up for the part of society who are underrepresented and discriminated against.”
She acknowledges that these mandatory quotas should be temporary and in place only until “the glass ceiling is lifted” for women. “Let’s say it’s for the next 10 years until we fill in this emergency gap and see that society is improving by itself.”
But her battle doesn’t end there; Diana is campaigning with Equal Merit to address the lack of female representation on public television in Italy where she says only 15-20 per cent of primetime TV shows in the country feature women in leading roles. Diana says this sends out a dangerous message to the public and in particular young people, “who will assume that leaders are only men if they see only male leads in their TV shows.”
As it’s a public service and women are paying for this, she believes women should be represented equally to men. How does this compare to her new adopted home in Britain? She says the UK is much better because society is much more open to women in power.
“They have the Queen and now the Prime Minister, they are used to seeing powerful women.” But it’s far from perfect, she says. “They have this horrible pay gap between men and women, we have the same but unfortunately in Italy the salaries are so low the difference isn’t as much. Again this should be a law to ensure both sexes are paid equally. Why should two people be paid differently for the same job only because one is of a different gender?”
Diana compares the gender pay gap to racism; “When you treat people differently because of the colour of their skin that’s racism, so why is it acceptable to treat people differently because of their gender?” she asks.