For this month’s interview, we have had the pleasure to meet WIL member Isabella Lenarduzzi, a committed feminist, entrepreneur, gender equality expert and the founder of the social enterprise JUMP, «Promoting gender equality, Advancing the economy». Since she was a child, Isabella has always wanted to make an impact in society, and after many years as a social entrepreneur, she decided to use her personal and professional experience to specifically help other women reach their full potential and autonomy.
Our first interview with you was in 2009, just a few years after you created JUMP, which has become a leading international social enterprise. Could you tell us more about JUMP and how it has evolved over the years? Did its mission and activities change with the society’s developments with regards to gender equality?
I created JUMP in 2006 in Brussels, which later opened in Paris and Lyon. Over the years, I realised that in order to close the gap between women and men, working with women is not enough: we also need to work with companies and with men. Corporate culture is indeed too often masculine, leading women to adapt to specific behaviours, values and ways of working. This is why men must understand that gender equality is not only a women's problem and must commit to also contribute to trigger change.
Our headline thus went from "JUMP for active women” to "JUMP promoting gender equality, advancing the economy": by transforming the corporate culture in a more inclusive one, we can change the rules of the economy, and by changing the economy, we can then change the world.
‘Corporate culture is indeed too often masculine,
leading women to adapt to specific
behaviours, values and ways of working’
Before creating JUMP, you had a long career as a social entrepreneur. How did this will to change the world get started and why did you decide to work specifically on the issue of gender equality?
Since I can remember, I have always wanted to change the world by bieingan activist or a political leader. At University, a colleague of mine who was already an entrepreneur asked me to launch a magazine for the campus. This initiative ended up being hugely successful and became a company of more than 50 employees, later sold to a big multinational. This experience led me to believe that also as an entrepreneur, I could have a positive impact on the world.
I decided to work specifically on the issue of gender equality after reading a book by Paule Salomon, entitled "La Femme Solaire", which made me realize how powerful a woman could be if she combines her masculinity and femininity. Until then, I had only exploited my masculine side and tried to hide my feminine one, as I thought it was not needed to be considered as a leader, or even severely judged in the professional world. I decided to embrace my femininity entirely and to support other women in doing so and in reaching their full potential.
Is this why you associate JUMP with the pink color, usually depicted as a “girly” colour?
Exactly. I faced tremendous resistance when I chose pink to represent my company, especially from women, but I decided to pursue this decision because I strongly believe that women and men alike should embrace their femininity and that pink should thus be seen as a business colour like any other.
Using pink is a statement that we no longer have to hide our femininity and adapt to the dominant leadership style and that on the contrary, we can be feminine and powerful at the same time!
Using pink is a statement that we no longer have to hide our feminity
and adapt to the dominant leadership style!
What do you think are the difficulties women face when creating their organisation?
Most of the time, women are less likely to open a company, or an organisation compared to men. Women certainly want to thrive in what they can do best, but they are also financially risk-averse and want to have a good work-life balance.
At the same time, self-employed women globally earn half of what men earn for the same job, but take charge of more than 70% of all unpaid work (domestic and family work). Being financially vulnerable, they are less likely to open their organisation and take such a risk that could jeopardise the balance of their personal life (meaning family, children...).
I believe and strongly advocate that women and men are equally capable of founding their own organisation and succeed in doing so if they do not lower their professional aspiration and pursue a filed they are really passionate about and want to be unique.
What are the key messages that you share with organisations that want to promote women in leadership roles and leverage female talent?
One of our key messages is that by having better gender balance in decision making positions, companies will obtain better innovation strategies and then reach higher level of success in the market. Gender diversity is thus strategically crucial for companies!
Another strong statement is that the way women are perceived in companies has to change. For example, when a woman asks for a pay raise, she is often seen as overly ambitious and, in some way, arrogant (“bossy”), whereas a man in the same situation is seen as a hard-working leader. Therefore, a substantial cultural shift in companies is needed so that women and men’s behaviours and actions stop from being perceived differently!
Gender diversity is thus strategically crucial for companies!
Where do you see JUMP heading to in the next five years?
My objective is to push even further our mission so that more companies become fully inclusive. Spreading our mission would mean that we can impact the society in which we live even more and trigger a cultural shift.
We are thus planning to broaden our horizons and open more offices around Europe, such as Germany, still bearing in mind that different approaches are needed because there are substantial cultural differences between countries and cities in the way women are perceived.