There were 22 nominations for HSBC’s first Malta Businesswoman of the Year Award – but the winner dreams of the day when more women would be nominated to gender-neutral ‘businessman of the year’ awards.

“I would like to think that I would also have been nominated for a ‘businessman’ award, competing on the basis of success,” CareMalta CEO Natalie Briffa Farrugia admits.

She was nominated by one of her group directors, accepting to have her name put forward after considerable soul-searching – as she felt that her nomination could help others.

“I am aware that there are gender issues in Malta but until now I never had the time to contribute positively to this issue,” she said.

She was full of praise for HSBC’s initiative, saying that the award would at the very least stimulate discussion and challenge structures, which was certainly a positive thing.

“On reflection, however, most women would not have pushed to be nominated… We are too busy doing other things,” she admitted, noting that finding a balance between work and life left scant time for joining organisations and raising one’s profile.

We have to change the way we look at women who work

“We are indeed not that good at networking but if I am capable of doing a job, then I should not need to lobby for it!

“I had to make a lot of choices in my life. For example, I was seven months pregnant (with a toddler) when I was appointed CEO in 2008 – but that is when the vacancy came up. I was already the director of operations at the time but I had to convince a board of men that I could do the job.”

Ms Briffa Farrugia explained that in spite of facilities like maternity leave, childcare and after-school sessions, there were still many obstacles for women in a man’s world – citing as one example board meetings being scheduled after working hours, the worst possible time for a mother with young kids.

“I suggested 5am, rather than 5pm. There were not many takers,” she laughed.

Her personal approach is one that she also applies across the group, which employs 1,200 people, where she promotes a strong team spirit to allow flexibility and ‘work/life balance leave’ for those who need time for personal issues. 

However, looking beyond the company, she appreciates that more is needed, and called for a change of mentality to build on all that has already been done.

“We have to change the way we look at women who work. There are still so many who feel guilty that they are compromising their role at home…. I am always amazed that there are so many of my female colleagues – even in managerial positions – who don’t have cleaners, for this reason! You are working and trying to spend time with your family, and then spend Sunday doing laundry? Why?”

What can be done? She is not in favour of positive discrimination but freely admits that it may be an unavoidable tool for change: “I don’t see gender, race or religion – only competence. For me personally, I would find it offensive to be put on to a board merely because I am a woman. I would want to believe that I am there because I can do it better than anyone else.

“So, no, I am not in favour of quotas – but if that is the way to change things in this country – or anywhere in the world, for all that matter – then I would think twice,” she said.

CareMalta, part of the Vassallo Group, runs nine homes for the elderly – up from a handful when she took over in 2008. It had a turnover of €27 million in 2017.

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