Where a growing circle of business leaders comes to share, learn, and inspire organizations to put people first

Whirling Chief


Fateme Banishoeib

Fateme Banishoeib

Fateme Banishoeib is a strategic leadership consultant for teams and organizations seeking transformational change that leads to more engaged employees and customers.
Her specialty is creating cultures of innovation and inclusion. She understands corporate environments from having spent years leading them as a Fortune 500 executive. She’s based in Basel, and works with clients all over the world.
She gives talks on Leadership and Inclusion. She has also published a book of poetry called The Whisper, which charts the journey of leadership of self before the leadership of others.

After earning a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, she went to work in the pharmaceutical industry because her lifelong dream has been to save lives.
She spent nearly a decade leading Quality Assurance projects and teams, and ultimately served as Global Head of Quality Operations for Novartis. Her experience includes organisations turn around, breaking down silos to create true collaboration, and building diverse, global teams able to work through their conflicts to innovate the way forward.
Her consulting business grew out of a desire to help leaders at other organizations to build the kinds of innovative and inclusive cultures that she’s learned to create over and over again.
She comes from a seaside city in the south of Italy and feels as much at home in Basel as in San Francisco and Buenos Aires.

Her colleagues have long known her as someone who thinks big, shoots straight, and takes great care. She understands corporate environments from having spent years leading them.

Featured Video, HR Management, Video

Nº 162

How Can Poetry Benefit Business?

Last week at the World Economic Forum 2018, I heard infamous Yuval Noah Harari speak on a topic very dear to all our hearts: The future of humanity.

Of course, we, as Whirling Chief community are most interested in how the future of humanity will evolve in relationship to work, work experience and work places.

Following his talk, when asked about who should be the owners of data and data regulation in the 21st century, Professor Harari very humbly said “I don’t know”; then he continued to say “… perhaps we should ask scientists and experts and poets – especially poets in the room…”

That was just music to my ears… Trying to solve futuristic problems – problems we have never faced before – in a linear, traditional fashion is not just naive, it is slightly underwhelming to my heart.

Running business by focusing on the ‘doing’ won’t serve the progress of humankind. Technology has already surpassed humans in that. What can be replenished now is the human element.

Fateme Banishoeib, one of our contributors and Founder of a Think Tank called Renew Business, is a strategic leadership consultant for teams and organizations seeking transformational change. Her specialty is creating cultures of innovation and inclusion. She understands corporate environments from having spent years leading them as a Fortune 500 executive. Her latest book “The Whisper” charting the journey from leadership of self to leadership of others was one of our most favorite reads in 2017.

Recently, we traveled to Lugano together as a team, where we watched Fateme give her first Tedx speech. She talks to the business community about how poetry can benefit business and vice versa.

Let your mind wonder for a little while on this beautiful Monday before we summarize our Forum notes for you all next…

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  • 29 January 2018
Whirling Chief

HR Management

Nº 138

3 Simple Things We Can All Do to Advance Inclusion


Inclusion is a passion for me and not just what I do for a living. The recent news around the software engineer’s 10-page screed against Google’s diversity initiatives going viral inside the company, sparked action and heated debate.

In the memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” the author argues that women are underrepresented in tech not because they face bias and discrimination in the workplace, but because of inherent psychological differences between men and women. There has been a lot of talking on this memo, with many dissenting as cheering voices. What it shows us is that ultimately dialogue is needed more than ever.

We cannot neglect the impact of stereotypes, biases and century of social conditioning on the life of all of us. It is very tempting to point fingers against this memo and neglecting that we are constantly bombarded with the publicised use of negative stereotypes in mass media and social media.

It requires us to turn the mirror back and ask ourselves where the process has failed. This isn’t a failure of a single person or a lack of acknowledgment of all the good works that has been done. Yet, we have to admit that if we think of how to bring more diversity in the workplace and in society only by looking at the numbers of women on a team or on C level for example, we are neglecting an entire world that is under water and that has much bigger impact. I am talking about inclusion.

If for a moment we assume we have achieved in a team equal representation of diverse gender, ethnicity, age, etc., it does not mean that the “diverse” employee is not being marginalise. Moreover, what would happen in face of a challenge or a conflict? Can diversity alone bring true benefit?

Diversity becomes a burden when not paired with inclusion. Only when combined they become a competitive advantage.

My answer is that is going to be challenging and a recipe for disaster as diversity when not authentically included will result in people falling even far behind and anchoring in old stereotypes.

If you and your organisation truly want to work towards inclusiveness, part of your personal strategy and your organisational strategy needs to have a willingness and openness to discuss, to educate and understand the impact of actions and behaviours. At times it feels like there is a persistent cloud around us making difficult to move pass the gap of inclusion. The real work is in the clearing of the “cloud” through building awareness and recognising behaviours and practices that are set with good intentions in the mind and eye of the beholder, but do nothing to move toward equity.

We all have an individual responsibility to inclusion. An organisation can put into place procedures, policies all well intended to be inclusive. But we cannot neglect that this procedures and policies come alive and are lived by the individuals in the organisation. They, we are the ones who are either aligned with the goals and practices or not. How we act, speak and behave are the evidences of our beliefs and biases.

Here are three things we all can do in the workplace to move forward our (because they are ours they are not the company’s) inclusion programs:

  • Ask yourself if your beliefs are aligned with the companies value around diversity and inclusion. If they are not talk with others to gather different perspectives and educate yourself. Everyone has a choice. The choice to be part of the problem (of the lack of inclusion) or you can be part of the solution that supports creating an inclusive environment where everyone is treated fairly and can have the opportunity to succeed regardless of age, gender, background, etc.
  • Practise inclusion not only integration. What that means? Let’s go back to the definitions. Integration is: incorporation as equals into society or an organisation of individuals of different groups. Which is the case when organisations create a dedicated group to address minorities, e.g. women dedicated groups, etc. Inclusion means that a person with a disability, women, whoever, has the same rights, access and choices as everyone else in a community.  In this short video I provide with a visualisation of this concept and ask you some provoking questions: Inclusion is a universal human right. Do your policies advance inclusion or integration? If you answer is integration, it is time to look at those policies and revise them.
  • Measure whether the “diverse” employee (I should probably say all employee) is heard and valued rather than simply measuring their presence in the organisation. This is not as simple as reflecting their presence. Here some tips to start measuring the right indicators; include compensation, promotion trending and hierarchy.

These three steps support us to remain open and attentive of diversity and our capacity to include. Investing on the three is crucial to have a bigger impact on the entire society not only in the workplace.

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  • 18 October 2017
Whirling Chief

From Us

Nº 131

Professions of the Future


I recently attended TEDx Lugano as a speaker. The theme of the event was very dear to me: Professions of the Future. It was very uplifting and inspiring to join 10 other speakers to spread very worthwhile ideas, and engage in a dialogue with such an engaged audience. Whirling Chief founder Sesil Pir has already written a very detailed update on the topics discussed at TEDx Lugano, which you can find here. I have also written a more specific blog post on my talk…including some poetry as a gift for you!

What I would like to discuss here are some of the questions that emerged during the several dialogues before and after the event. We will be sharing videos of the talks as soon as they are available (you can check as well on the TEDxLugano page) – hopefully this will allow you to reflect on the professions of the future on your own.

Understanding the pace of change and the type of changes we will be facing can help governments, leaders, each one of us, to move forward. We all debate about the 4th industrial revolution and whether in the future we will have jobs. This 4th revolution, which is said to not have started just yet, is nonetheless reshaping all of our careers. It is estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will fill roles that currently do not exist, due to the advancement of automation, digital platforms, and other innovations changing the fundamental nature of work.

The development of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence will substitute the way we do certain jobs, and will hopefully relieve humans from working in harsh conditions. At the same time, we need to pay closer attention to what images we put out there on social media, for example on LinkedIn, to be identified and selected for a job in the future.

But the reality is that in the next 5 years, in the USA at least, independent workers will form 50% of the workforce. They will increasingly choose to offer their services on digital platforms, challenging conventional ideas about how and where work is undertaken.

We cannot deny that some jobs, as we now know them, are simply going away. What we do not know is which type of new jobs will emerge, and the real question to me remains: How do we equip ourselves and evolve in our journey as humankind? It is clear that the business structure as it currently exists must change. We need to innovate business so as to support all of humankind’s progress. This means we must look at old hierarchy models and make them less rigid (millennials won’t feel comfortable working under rigid hierarchies), make jobs more dynamic, and reconsider income inequality not only from the perspective of gender. As robots take over jobs, how do we ensure we have a fair redistribution of wealth? Is basic income the future?

Prior to the event I was interviewed by the Swiss national radio RS1 “Mille Voci” and someone from the public asked a fair question on ethics and morals in the era of automation. How will government create policies to embed ethics in the design of robots?

What I am perceiving is that we finally have the opportunity to humanize business. It almost seems a paradox while talking about virtual reality, AI, and robotics. The choice is totally up to us – take it or leave it. The essence of the shift is a simple but big idea: the idea of being in a job – just “doing” without “being” – is starting to go away. It must. We do not want, nor can we, compete with robots on the level of doing. Let me break down (after a day long event at TEDxLugano) the professions of the future into three simple buckets, which regardless of the field represent the main areas of impact for the future of work:

  1. Personal impact:leading with “why.” Asking ourselves why we work, and becoming very clear on how work fits into our life, will differentiate us from a robot. It is important we all make a personal decision on how we stay current in our skills and capabilities, and how work gives us meaning and purpose.
  2. Organizational impact:creating a business model that serves all humankind. A model that allows all of us, robots and humans, to perform at the best of our capabilities while allowing continuous development.
  3. Societal impact: creating a new education system to support the new generations to enter the workplace, and prepare the current workforce to transition into the jobs of the future.

I believe it came across strongly from several of the speakers at TEDx Lugano that how we prepare for such an uncertain, complex, and ambiguous future is going to be critical. A first step we can take is acknowledging the “death of a single skill set.” We need to understand that “business as usual” is no longer enough and what has made us employable today will not be enough tomorrow.

There are three key things we all need to guarantee and create in order for everyone to have a better future:

  • Definitively guarantee more freedom as to how and where we work, and allow employees to work in the way that is most conducive to their productivity and success. And also create for ourselves the flexibility and the freedom of different careers (maybe in very diverse fields) in parallel.
  • We need to move from direct guidance and supervision, which seems more appropriate for robots and computers, to considering our employees entrepreneurs who need to be self-motivated in order to find career success.
  • Career paths and education must become customised rather than standardized to allow more diversity and innovation capacity.

I came to a simple conclusion: The future of work is already here. So how are you and your organization getting ready for it and everything it entails?

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  • 25 September 2017
Whirling Chief

HR Management

Nº 111

Are Women and Men Equals in the Workplace?


No conversation about male/female equality can begin without first acknowledging the reality of ‘implicit bias.’ Let me share a personal story from a few years ago, which will help you understand what the role of implicit bias plays in our personal definition of equality. I was at the lead of a department in a global company based in the United States. I had just been appointed, and was ready to bring my excitement to every event I attended, especially to those organised by the company-dedicated group for women leaders. Their mission was to focus on strategies to advance women in leadership roles.

As a woman leader, it was my responsibility to create a change and foster an environment open for that change to happen. I worked on a proposal to portray women in leadership positions, to applaud them and, above all, to build a movement that valued the feminine traits in leadership. The goal was to shift perception and dialogue around how a woman is supposed to show up as a leader. A desire for authentic and inclusive leadership. I talked with various people and connected volunteers, supporters, and sponsors.

The day I would unveil the campaign had arrived. I entered the meeting room; the women-dedicated group panel was already there. I shook hands with everyone, connected my computer, and started my presentation with a background of photos I had taken of women leaders in the organization. The pictures portrayed them in their roles and work environment highlighting the traits they, themselves, considered as feminine and wanted to show more in the work they did.

As soon as I mentioned the word “feminine” and the need to show up in leadership with feminine traits, I noticed awkward movements of my audience and faces turning away. All signs of discomfort. I paused and asked if there were any questions. The leader of the group told me:

“You cannot mention the word feminine in public. We do not want you to take pictures of women portraying feminine traits of leadership. Maybe you could take pictures of them with their families.”

For months, I double guessed my judgement and thought maybe they were right and the word “feminine” wasn’t that important overall – the habit of questioning ourselves as women working in a male dominated environment – until one day I realised what this was all about: implicit bias and the need to see or identify with “feminine” only when it is reassuring, comforting, and not threatening. This example wasn’t only my personal perception, or an isolated case. There was a real closure towards feminine – a closure for which not only men are to be blamed.

I see similar reactions and patterns when reading articles on women in the business world, I often find myself (after the initial excitement vanishes) concerned about implicit bias.

I see a peculiar choice of words which gives me the impression that those women in the headlines are the passive receivers rather than the active authors of their career. Almost like an object which is made powerful by somebody else.

I think this is the result of the implicit bias we all carry. Yes, me included, and you who are reading, too. One of the main roadblocks to equality is implicit bias which, if not addressed, will continue to drive the way we do business and politics, and live our lives. The perfect example is a certain cultural bias that sees women as not eligible to take the power unless it is given to them. Unless somebody makes them powerful.

While equality is big among corporations and governments, there are still double standards aimed at women that are hard to get rid of, as they are part of our heritage and culture. I am sure that when asked, the vast majority of people believe women and men are equally capable of serving as top corporate leaders. Yet, we have to acknowledge that when male CEOs talk, it’s fair to say no one’s thinking instead about what he’s wearing.

There are studies which prove that the small number of female CEOs is due to the fact that women are held to higher standards than their male counterparts. Similarly, other research finds that female CEOs are far more likely to be pressured and second-guessed by shareholders than men occupying the same leadership position. Even today, after all the equal opportunity laws, professional women too often have to bring much more to the table than a man to get a job, higher pay, or simply recognition for achievements. Men and women may believe female leaders are just as qualified as their male peers, but certain stigmas persist. One of the reasons is that unconsciously we do not associate the word “leader” and its traits with “female.” Our bias sees female leaders as abnormal, and therefore they face more resistance than men in leadership roles. Assertive women are punished for being unfeminine; women who conform to stereotypes are deemed too meek for top jobs. We must admit our own expression of discomfort with women in positions of power to get past it. If you are now telling yourself that you have no discomfort or bias, let’s all do a quick test together. Close your eyes and picture a CEO. Is that person wearing a suit or a dress? Chances are, you’re not picturing a lady.

There is a current predominant focus on the numbers, on the “how many” women, nationalities, age representations, you name it, rather than on inclusion. It has become a battle of numbers that in my view will increase the gap as it does not address the real issue: lack of inclusion.

We have the responsibility to acknowledge and discover our own biases, and call each other out if we want to become more inclusive. Inclusion must be an intentional choice.

We, as women, do play a crucial role in it. The real questions to be asked are about a system and a model that is not inclusive. How did we fall into the trap of that model? How many women have encountered resistance in corporate jobs by showing feminine traits and how many have succeeded instead by neglecting their feminine side? Do we think that portraying “feminine traits” is highlighting how many children a woman in a leadership position has?

For one moment I ask you to forget about the number of women on your team, and instead go talk to them about feminine traits in leadership. Are you comfortable discussing this? Are these women comfortable talking about it, and do they give their definition of what feminine traits looks like in the workplace?

I do not think we can close the gender gap by counting how many female CEOs there are in the world. A better question would be what is their definition of a “feminine leader,” and how much did they have to carve out to get where they are? How hard did they have to push appearing “abrasive” or “aggressive” (what we typically call a woman in business who had to avoid being feminine to fit in)?

There is only one way to reach equality and that is inclusion – inclusion of both feminine and male traits into a business model that values those traits as equally important and necessary in a leader, regardless of gender.

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  • 8 May 2017