Francesca Sutti, Partner and Head of the Italian Competition practice, DLA Piper Italy
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I started working in law with Professor Guido Rossi at the university where I graduated, after which I decided to spend a period abroad. At that time our firm was part of Schürmann und Partner (a German firm which subsequently merged with Coudert Brothers). Being a German speaker, I decided to apply to work for that firm in Germany. On my return to Italy, I had discussions with various competitors, but Schürmann's Milan office needed someone with competition law expertise for a specific transaction and I was asked to join at least on a temporary basis… I have now been here for 16 years!
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
My proudest professional achievements are to have the opportunity to work on some very interesting cases and to have (well-known) personal clients despite the fact that I am both young and a woman.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Firstly, satisfying clients by delivering high quality legal service at a reasonable cost in the context of an economic crisis. Secondly, training the other members of my practice to be able to reach the same goal themselves.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I believe that, regardless of gender, trying to be a high quality lawyer always seeking excellence requires a long list of sacrifices to the detriment of one's balance between life and work. But I enjoy doing my work (most of the times at least!).
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
Yes, when I was studying I had three mentors, all professors at my school of law. They advised me constantly. However my role model was Professor Guido Rossi, a very brilliant person and at that time probably the shining star amongst Italian lawyers. He only chose to work on the instructions that he liked, allowing himself to refuse cases that were not particularly interesting (even if very profitable). That is a right that we deserve (but cannot afford).
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I think they are effective.
However, I am afraid that sometimes women seem to regard themselves as something close to the Chinese panda, as something rare that has to be protected and is specially privileged. In contrast, the final goal should be for people to reach the top positions within the workforce irrespective of their gender. Unfortunately, my generation will not fulfil that but those that follow should.
Sharing experiences certainly help women to learn from each other, but what it is most necessary, in my opinion, is to change the current environment and culture.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Quite often in Italy during the start of your career (for example when you are meeting with people you do not know) you are viewed almost with suspicion. But if you do not let this affect you and simply get on with things, people will appreciate your professionalism and will forget what gender you are.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
Many of our mothers did not even work and our grandmothers did not have the right to vote. Things are changing; the number of women in the workforce is increasing - I can infer that from the CVs I receive. However, I have to admit that still few women reach top-positions, I suspect mainly because it can be hard to reconcile professional success and one's private life.