I met Luciana during our MBA studies at IE. Our paths crossed during one of the most amazing years of our lives. I wished we could have done this interview in person, and yet I still feel extremely grateful to share the written article with a great person and her story. It may inspire you too!

Luciana Vilar Denardi is originally from Brazil, from Spanish and Italian background and she has studied and worked in 7 different countries so far. She started her career in Procter & Gamble Geneva, hired straight out of Uni in Brazil to work on cost forecasting. After four diverse finance roles in very different categories, she was with the P&G Prestige business that was sold in the biggest merger of the Beauty Industry to date to Coty. In that context, she relocated to Australia and helped integrate the go-to-market models as well as operations of the two companies. After three years down under she decided it was time to return to Europe.

Tell us about your current role.

Today I am the EMEA Commercial Finance Director at Coty, a global beauty business with headquarters in Amsterdam. On top of that, even if I am not-so-young anymore, I remain engaged with the One Young World community of which I was the Coordinator in Oceania (2017-2020): these young leaders are driving change in their communities, following the UN’s SDGs; and my particular passion is Goal #5 – Gender Equality.

How did you get where you are today and how has your experience at IE helped you?

I´ve always had a mindset of self-questioning followed by self-challenge and over delivery. It may not have done wonders for my mental health (I´ve struggled with anxiety from a young age), but it comforted me to know that I was constantly evolving and striving for happiness.

The GLOBAL MBA at IE University was a big step in the self-improvement journey: the case studies were a high-quality way to get to know each industry and the different roles within the corporate realm. The entrepreneurial front was fantastic for me to mature my own business idea (that nudged me to pick IE) and make it much stronger thanks to all the exercises in which we poked holes into it.

Upon graduation I was more confident and professionally mature to become the CFO of the Australia & New Zealand luxury business when the opportunity arose.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

For years I worked long days and got often sick, despite being young and energetic. Little had I known that not being fat did not mean being healthy. One day this message finally clicked inside of me:

“Realize that freedom is a state of mind and you are already there”.

With that, I came to terms with the fact that work would still be there next morning if I left at 6 pm every day. Over years of living by that learning (one can hear advice and understand rationally its benefits, but until you internalize it you will not make a change), upon moving to Sydney I took it a step further – to improve my physical health too. My best friend’s incredible CrossFit journey inspired me to try bootcamps and yoga, and following that discovery, a revamp in my nutrition was overdue. I significantly reduced my meat intake (for the planet!) and this holistic transformation (work, play, body, mind) made me the very happy person I am today.

What advice would you give to women who want to succeed in the workplace?

During my career, the roles I enjoyed the most were the ones I could tailor to include either something I am passionate about (my volunteering with One Young World, fascination for art) or fun multifunctional team dynamics (I have made best friends for life in the workplace). This reiterates that we are the same human, that has a personal and a professional life too – you can bring the positive aspects from one into the other to make you happier. And remember that feedback truly is a gift, so don´t be afraid to inquire about your blind spots and get a glimpse on how you are perceived.

On a broader note, women must be more intentional at self-promotion, and while that does not come naturally, I would suggest having at least 1h a week set aside for a coffee (or 2) with peers in other functions to ask how can you add value to their team or collaborate in the future. Finally, do not rely on HR to do anything to advance your career – you are the one who should show examples of your work to peers and bosses. Build bridges. Always.

What kind of mindset should younger generations have to break the glass-ceiling?

Younger generations are already more empowered in their personal lives (we did something right, fellow feminists!) and they bring that equality mindset to the workplace. For those who don’t naturally do it, the mindset to fight inequality or injustice should be, in my point of view, to speak up when you see something that is not OK (from as little as a coffee machine comment about someone to escalating to HR any kind of harassment you’ve witnessed). Strive to break the status quo especially when it is uncomfortable because if not you, then who? Be brave, Stand for something. In my experience this kind of behaviour did ruffle up some feathers but, in the end, what remains is your legacy.

How do you mitigate various unconscious bias at workplace as well as for your own career planning?

First step is to acknowledge it – do a thorough inward journey to identify your blind spots and implicit biases. I suggest vision boards and meaningful exchanges with friends you trust. After you identify them, work diligently to understand and deconstruct them (usually by understanding how they got there in the first place. Tip – it is usually context). At the workplace that is much more difficult because we cannot control others, so I´d say to lead by example. When you see people exhibiting a behaviour that you believe is coming from their unconscious bias, help them see it, too. Watch out, that only works after you successfully confronted your own demons (otherwise it may backfire, as any unauthentic intervention would).

Could you share a professional failure that you have had and what you have learned from it?

I have this mentality of working for the team and improving things. That means I’ve taken on more work than my scope in order to improve a process or a report, or to make a cherished colleague’s life easier. Hindsight being a beautiful thing (well, so is feedback from reliable sources), today I realize that I have carried unscrupulous bosses on my back throughout my career. They all eventually moved on and the truth came out that I was doing all the work, even at a junior level, but because I hadn’t built my network properly, when annual review arrived, no one was there to defend me. This means that my career did not advance as fast as it could, but early on I didn’t have any kind of mentor or anyone more experienced in a corporate career to help me through the difficulties of being a woman in finance.

What or who has been your greatest influence in your professional path and why?

I made my best friends in life either at or via professional networks. Tangible people are for me the most inspiring as they represent a ‘bar’ that can totally be achieved. Success for me spans across all spheres of life, and one cannot compensate the other; therefore, I agree with the saying that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so I ensure I am surrounded by strong, independent, smart and sincere friends who I can count on, be that for personal or professional reasons.