Uber CEO prepares maternity depart: “It needs to be a part of the tradition”
Silvia Penna, CEO of Uber, believes that maternity leave needs to be seen as part of the company’s daily life
Until Gabriel arrives, the mining engineer Silvia Penna, who for a year and a half has been the general director of Uber in Brazil, prepares his departure so that he can dedicate himself exclusively for six months to the baby he is expecting. The decision to stay out of the company for all maternity leave is still not common among top executives like Penna, but she attributed the safety of making the decision to the company’s culture, which encourages parents to go on parental leave for 18 weeks. . And also the presence of 57% of women in the company’s staff. Its predecessor, Claudia Woods, was one of those who made room for others to follow, believes the current leader.
Silvia Penna’s choice is a important step to help dispel the current idea in the labor market that mothers are less productive and that they will dedicate themselves less to work. A study by FGV (Fundação Getúlio Vargas) shows that, in two years, 51% of women who take maternity leave are out of the market, most of the time by choice of the employer and without just cause.
In this interview, she talks about how she is preparing to be away from the office and the importance of instilling the idea of parental leave into the company’s culture.
Forbes: How is your maternity leave preparation going?
Silvia Penna: I say I want it to be the smoothest transition possible, but I’m missed… Joking aside, I think it’s an ideal time, when all positions are filled by competent people and the team works. I looked for a professional who could take my place and who, at the moment, will be working by my side, doing the same things, being a shadow, and who already has a lot of influence with the team, who is the marketing director. We started designing this plan three months ago and it will last another three or four weeks, until I leave to take care of Gabriel.
F: You became pregnant shortly after you officially took office [ela passou seis meses como interina]. Did you plan this moment?
SP: I had a lot of trouble getting pregnant, I had in vitro fertilization several times. There came a time when I no longer thought about reconciling pregnancy with the moment of my career. Many times before that I thought that, in that particular year, a pregnancy wouldn’t fit… At some point I stopped doing this math. And then, when it worked, it had been a short time since I was in the position I am today. But my boss, who lives in Mexico, is a father and had just come back from 18 weeks of paternity leave when I met him. It makes us more comfortable. It’s easier when the license becomes a pattern and not a specific event. But of course it’s scary, I come from male industries. The day I went to tell him about the pregnancy I had so many fingers that he told me he felt relieved when I was done. “Geez, I thought you were going to quit,” he said.
F: Have you talked to other women who have had this experience to find out how to prepare?
SP: There is a general director of the France operation who left for health reasons and was absent for months. She has two children, has already left at other times in her career, but had to take a leave of absence for family health reasons recently. We talk about fears, difficulties, about how the return was. She also left an interim, and when she returned, she heard a lot of praise for the performance of this executive. She told me that this gave her a feeling of satisfaction, as she was responsible for developing that other professional. But, at the same time, there is that feeling of ‘did I miss you?’. I followed her and, after she returned, in four weeks she had already taken back all the responsibilities in a very smooth way. So I think this has to be in the company’s culture. It makes a big difference that I have seen this example.
F: Do you have fears of being away for six months?
SP: I think my biggest fear is going back to a very different Uber than the one I left. But that’s not necessarily a problem, it can be a very good thing, because it’s a new industry and it’s evolving in many ways. This is a topic that sticks in my head, for sure.
F: Having a woman occupying the post before you made room for this moment of yours?
SP: I’m sure. to Claudia [Woods, a ex-CEO da Uber] She was an incredible leader, who helped a lot in my development. And the volume of women in leadership at Uber has grown a lot with it. This gives us a mirror to be able to direct our career. It was very important to have her here to put female themes and bring the conversations of gender equality into everyday life.
F: Of the team you lead directly, how many are women?
SP: I only have one man out of six heads. Uber’s leadership in Brazil has a female majority. The latest company-wide figure is 57% women.
F: Was this number of women the result of some incentive program?
SP: We have several criteria in the selection process to guarantee women on the panel. During the performance review, there are ways you can analyze whether there are unconscious biases that are harming women. But I really believe that the cycle we had of putting women in the lead, which started with Claudia leading in Brazil, inspired a lot of people. So there wasn’t any kind of affirmative vacancy or any kind of effort on my part to hire more women. This happened naturally within this context and a long-term work. I promoted all the women that are on my team, but they were indeed the best candidates.
F: What are the characteristics that led you to occupy this position?
SP: I came in saying that I wanted to work in a strategy area, as I came from management consulting. I had no experience with leading people and I started to learn from circumstantial issues. I started leading a team, then it grew and grew. So I discovered that one of the great passions of my career is leading people. You get to meet people of different profiles and bring them all towards the same goal. Another thing is that I’m six years at Uber now. And six years is a long time for a technology company. I joined when we were still launching cash payments in Brazil, right at the beginning. So that gave me a knowledge of the business that contributed a lot to my success in this position.
F: You mentioned this director in France. Do you have mentors and mentors within the company?.
SP: I’ve had several within Uber as there is a formal mentoring program for all levels. My first mentor was the marketing director at the time, Adriana Gomes, an amazing person who helped me a lot with the insecurity I felt until I understood this transition to leadership and saw that it was what I wanted for my career. I also had what we call sponsors throughout my career. These are women who, regardless of where you are, inspire and help you.
F: Who is the woman you look up to today?
SP: There are many! I’m here thinking and I have a lot of internal examples and external examples. But, not to mention public figures, there is one person who has inspired me a lot. She worked at Uber. She is a Colombian woman living in the United States who showed me a very different way of leading. She is much more emotional than I am and brings a very human aspect to leadership. She is extremely empathetic and at the same time she has all the processes very clear. Everything she learned in her MBA at Harvard, I saw applying it in her daily life. I say my goal is to be a leader like she was for us here at Uber.