Gender inequalities still persist in the Portuguese labour market and in the world. To boost female leadership, Nova SBE Executive Education created the Women's Leadership Program, whose second edition will begin on March 21. We spoke to Mafalda Paiva Chaves, Learning Experience Designer at Nova SBE and hostess of the program, to understand what makes this training unique in the country.

Gender equality, especially in regards to leadership, still has a long way to go in companies?

There is a study that, despite not referring specifically to Portugal, surprised me a lot, because it states that, if things continue to develop at the current speed, it will take at least 136 years before there is equality for women in the corporate world. This is a long time - it means that neither our daughters, nor their daughters, nor our granddaughters, nor our great-granddaughters will live this reality. It represents between five and six generations, and that is a very, very long time. I sincerely hope that this study is not correct, but it serves to alert us that the speed of change is being very slow and we really have to accelerate it.

Of course, we can discredit this study and say that nowadays things change much faster because we are used to the exponential evolution of technologies, but the truth is that mentalities are not like technologies. Mentalities take a long time to evolve, and therefore it is our responsibility, as women and men, to make a very proactive effort to achieve change, which, in my view, depends on culture and education.


That is why it is essential to invest in in a program lik the Women's Leadership Program (WLP)?

That's why it is essential to invest in training such as the Women's Leadership Program. When I was challenged to be a hostess for this programme, I asked myself if a programme that would separate women, focusing only on them, was the best option. If we weren't accentuating a division between women and men. But the truth is that this study made me see that we need to make a concrete and intentional effort to empower women, we need to create a driving mindset.

The fact that research like this points to so much time before we see a change indicates precisely that we have to face the problem head-on. We have to address women by empowering them, and, yes, have men on board as well, but we can't continue to have programmes that address this issue in a superficial way. That's why I see the WLP programme as the best way to create this change - to bring women together, to talk openly about the issue, to create a community that supports and challenges them, so that they can be the agents of change.


What were the key-takeaways of the first edition?

The outcome of the first edition was very positive, the feedback we received was excellent, to the point that we positively surprised several participants. Our initial focus on the personal development of each participant was highly valued. We didn't just bring in themes from the outside, we created a programme that, by starting with a more personal reflection through group mentoring sessions, ensured that the learning that would emerge was aligned with each individual's context, purpose and challenges. This created an environment of mutual support and collaboration among the group, and from here on mutual support and sisterhood became very evident. From this moment on, the success of one represented the success of all.

I would say that the most positive thing that has been created is the community. We now have a very lively community of women, active in various channels, such as a WhatsApp, we have regular meetings and gatherings in various cities, peer mentoring sessions, which continue even after a few months, which is rare in most programmes. The former participants, now alumni, continue to support each other, each with their different projects, asking for help and giving advice, sharing interesting topics. In eight weeks of programme, a very cohesive and strong community was quickly created.


What is different about the WLP from other women's empowerment programmes?

There are several unique elements to this programme. Firstly, as we have talked about, it is a training that is tailored to the real challenges of the participants. This was an opportunity for us to listen to women and understand what really concerns them and what needs they have. In the first classes, we brought case studies and dilemmas, and the scenarios we presented usually had to do with reconciling family life and work. The participants themselves told us that these were not the only challenges they faced. We effectively learned from them, and adapted the course to better meet their needs. That's why the community works so well. It is the participants themselves who bring the challenges and work through them together.

Secondly, the diversity of this course makes all the difference, we have participants of all ages, industries and geographies. Here, the diverse experiences and visions complement each other. There is also a complicity that can only be created in an all-female environment. For now! In the future, I believe we will be able to replicate this complicity with groups of men and women. For now, we have managed to create synergies between the female teachers and the female students that were surprising and that I think were only possible because it is a 100% female programme.


One of the aims of the programme is to contribute to networking and knowledge of role-models for women who aspire to reach leadership positions. Why is it so important to foster contacts and share these stories?

I think that the fact that we have a faculty made up 100% of very successful women in their fields, with a deep knowledge of the topics they addressed and who created in each session, each in her own way, a striking and memorable moment also sharing a bit of their stories. Each teacher presented their study or work themes such as organisational transformation, entrepreneurship, finance, technology, relationship management, also addressing topics of their interest such as mindfulness, curiosity and creativity, sustainability, always from the perspective that success happens through ambition, but also through adaptability and collaboration. 

Sharing stories is a very powerful factor in transforming anything. During the programme, as we listened to other women's stories, it became clear that we all have similar difficulties and so we began to realise that we are not alone on this journey and that it is much easier to work through them together.

It was in this safe, non-judgemental environment that we were able to talk openly about topics that are very rarely talked about in a corporate environment. There are two trends here. The first is the fact of not bringing family, personal and emotional issues to work, which is something that, in my opinion, ends up affecting women more than men, as they have a more integrated life and circumstances affect each other. On the other hand, we did not assume that reconciling personal life and work is the biggest problem and believed that there is a whole deeper layer that is not so talked about and that is relevant for women.

For example, issues such as confidence, assertiveness, more cultural traits that are part of women's education from an early age, which then affect them in the corporate environment. Women tend to be more conciliatory, sometimes not so assertive and confident, but the truth is that the solution does not lie in trying to make women assume these "typically masculine" traits. It is necessary to find new ways for each woman to bring characteristics that are more typically hers, and allow them to enhance and value their work and relationships. The corporate environment will undergo a major transformation, driven by a cultural change that is already happening. In this future, we will also need more typically feminine characteristics, such as collaboration, mutual support, preservation and sustainability, an inclusive and integral vision, and the women who are willing, will make the difference. Then we will just have to be ready to open the door for them - because they are ready to create this future.

Do you know our
Women's Leadership Program?
Published in 
 in the area of 
Leadership & People

More articles from

Leadership & People


Join Our Newsletter and Get the Latest
Posts to Your Inbox

No spam ever. Read our Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.