Working with Zara Nanu on her thriving project Gapsquare has been a whirlwind, I've watched as the company moved from strength to strength, to Berlin, New York and Paris, heading to global conferences, accelerator programmes, tech demos and working with hundreds of companies on gender pay gap reporting in the UK.
But Zara also always finds time to be a great leader at Gapsquare, from small things like reminding us to take breaks in the office, take walks when we're demotivated, or to step out of the box to gain inspiration - to bigger things like motivating the entire team whilst juggling the company (and still getting to school to pick up her kids). It often left me wondering, what is it that makes someone able to lead in this way.
Recently, in a conversation about her experience as CEO, the week before Mother's Day, I asked her about her leadership style - what is her secret?
Easy, she says: "being a good leader is a lot like being a good parent".
"Being a parent gives you a crash-course in leadership – all the qualities of leadership are transferable from good parenting – listening, setting an example, inspiring, it’s not revolutionary for those of us who are involved in parenting, these skills come naturally. Parenting has made me a better CEO.
We have had to hone our ability to listen proactively every day as parents, guiding, understanding and choosing when to move forward. This then plays a part in how you approach business, and as CEO at Gapsquare, I can testify as to just how transferable these skills are."
I'm curious as to how younger Zara saw the world, were her expectations and goals always the same as they are now?
"Well, it's interesting because growing up in Moldova nobody expected me be into maths or science, which is quite similar to the experience here in the UK – but the Soviet Union had quotas around gender equalities which included the number of women in parliament, engineering etc – so I grew up knowing the name of the first woman in space for example – Valentina Tereshkova, who went to space in 1963.
Also, in my country, childcare was free for pre-school children, so women returning to work was a normal thing. I knew that my career would play a key role in my life. It wasn't until I had my first child here that I realised how tough it is. It made sense to me to return work and pursue something I'm passionate about, but it could be made a lot easier here for women to do that."
And now you're bringing up two girls in the UK - Do you see any difference in their experience growing up and yours?
"My daughters live in a society where toy shops are split into two colours, pink and blue, where pink is for princesses and blue is for building or creative toys. It’s much more of a battle bringing up girls in a world that doesn't even imagine playing in a way that isn't defined by their gender - if you want your girls to do more than be 'princess' you have to work on it."
Some commentators on the gender pay gap have been known to argue 'women leave work to go and start a family and that’s why they’re paid less’. What are your thoughts on this argument.
"That men start families too! It takes two and parenting requires a lot of unpaid work - educating a child, caring for a child, daily tasks, it all adds up in terms of unpaid work. Parents are not on holiday, they are still working, educating children that will one day contribute to the economy, they are our future tax payers and they will be building the businesses of the future. Why does time out to parent have to set any of us back?It's necessary labour and when women return to work and take up lower paid roles – the employer misses out on accumulated skills and experience."
Gapsquare has worked with hundreds of companies now, using its tech solution to close the gender pay gap and a lot has changed since you started out. At this point, I wonder what victory would look like for you?
"At the moment it's estimated that it will take over 200 years to close gender pay gap – victory for Gapsquare means skipping that figure by 180 years and closing the pay gap in 20. This vision will mean businesses reinventing the workplace, which are obviously no longer fit for purpose, and it will mean a thriving and innovative economy where diverse ideas are heard and acted upon."
What do you think 'Reinventing the workplace' would involve?
"Workplaces at the moment, are designed to congratulate behaviours that are not necessarily built with the future in mind and put at the forefront a 'certain type of worker'. Perhaps that could be someone who works all hours of the day, or the person who makes the most noise in a workplace and there's nothing wrong with that in a way, but the way our workplaces identify talent can block diverse teams from developing and we miss out on so much talent and innovation this way. If you need to be crazy to get to the top, are we doing things right? I think reinventing the workplace will mean taking a long hard look at how we value people."
What do you think the benefits will be, for business and for employees, of closing the gender pay gap?
"The existence of the pay gap itself means that women are not participating in the monetised economy - they are involved in un-paid economy that being a parent requires of us and that society still hasn't learnt to value . Closing the pay gap not only develops the talent of teams, it will inspire creativity and innovation, as well as bringing revenue into the economy.
In a more equal and fair working world, innovation means solutions, products and services that are for everyone, not just for a very specific group of people - Gapsquare imagines a world where this is obvious to employers universally, it imagines an economy that is inclusive of the whole population, which understands the needs, ideas and drivers for us all. Being a parent is such a huge part of life, and the skills we develop whilst leading a family, should be recognised as key to leading an economy, and encouraging all of us to press for progress. "
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