by Margherita Fontana, Director at Dow Chemical & ETH Circle Member, 9 March 2021
This year, the celebration of Women International Day coincides with another anniversary: the 1-year global work-from-home anniversary due to the COVID-19 lockdown which started in March 2020. Ironically, the flexibility that many of us were claiming was needed and would be the Future of Work became the omnipresent new reality, which for many women did not turn out to be as good as expected.
I started my current role at Dow as Global Procurement Director of Strategic Planning and Governance in the middle of the pandemic. Moving into a global functional role from my previous Business Commercial Director role was quite a change to manage on its own, let alone doing it during this extraordinary year. The change has been a tremendous learning and growth opportunity which has not come without challenges. One of the major issues to manage has been that of managing family life, home schooling, and a new job at the same time. What has enabled me to successfully navigate the year and the new start has been a strong leadership support both at work and at home. At home, my husband and I are a strong team that supports each other. As two full-time working parents, we share all duties and responsibilities equally and this is a considerable part of the reason why we can both be happy and successful in pursuing our respective career objectives. Having a strong support basis, whether this comes from family, friends, or a supportive network, is a very important anchor we should build in our lives, to get the psychological safety that we all need in order to thrive in our lives. At work, it has been fundamental to have a leader who has been very supportive and who creates a psychological safe environment where everybody can be themselves and bring their best everyday. What has also helped me to navigate the new life style during the pandemic year has been maintaining the discipline of disconnecting from work, travelling back home to Italy to visit my family, enjoying the outdoor life whenever possible and maintaining a focused and clear mind trough practicing sports and yoga.
In addition to the role I just described, I was also appointed as the Chair of the Dow Global Women Network, which I consider a privilege that comes with the big responsibility of advancing inclusion and women’s representation at all levels in the company. Being part of such a strong and diverse network has definitely contributed to help navigating the difficult past year, while continuing to be a source of constant learning during my own leadership journey.
I am not new to the experience of navigating major career and life changes during a major crisis. In fact, in 2008 in the middle of the financial crisis, on the day Lehman Brothers announced the bankruptcy and the company I was working for back then was acquired by a bigger company, I had to make a major decision within a few days. I had to decide whether to secure a loan to finance the MBA program at INSEAD I had just been told I was accepted into. It was not an easy consideration, but I had clarity and determination around the vision I had for myself. The focus on the long term goal of moving into a leadership role versus the short term notion of securing the next available job, allowed me to persevere and achieve the goal I had for myself.
Decision making in highly uncertain times has taught me a lot. First and foremost, believe in yourself and in your vision and dreams, even if everybody around you is trying to convince you of the opposite. Never settle with the obvious easy choice. The rewards come once we stretch and challenge ourselves. Growth and opportunities do not arise out of comfortable situations, quite the opposite! Going through these experiences, the learnings prepare us to thrive in uncertain and ambiguous situations, like the ones the pandemic has presented. This is advice I would always share with girls and women who have aspirations and ambitions to develop themselves: be ready to explore the less obvious paths and have the courage to embrace uncertainty, in whatever format this might present itself.
Looking back at where it all started for me, curiosity has led me to where I am today, but most probably I would not have come that far if I wasn’t open to embracing some level of uncertainty. My parents have taught me to be curious and hungry for learning, in order to continuously grow in the journey that I would choose for myself. This has given me the strength not to put off by difficulties along the way. The only recommendation I would give to my younger self is do not hesitate to ask for help and look for advice along the way!
About the author
Dr. Margherita Fontana is the Global Strategic Planning and Governance Procurement Director at Dow Chemical, leading Dow’s Global Strategic Procurement activities. Prior to her current role, she held the EMEAI Procurement Director role, and was accountable for the Strategic Sourcing and Procure to Pay Services in the EMEAI region. Margherita is the Chair of the Global Dow Women Inclusion Network (WIN), leading the advancement of women in Business both DOW and externally. In 2020 she was recognized as HERoes 100 Women Future Leaders list supported by Yahoo Finance.