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Paula Pimentel, director-general of Beiersdorf Portugal and Altri’s non-executive director

A first-hand account of female leadership

Paula Pimentel, the director-general of Beiersdorf Portugal, and a Non-Executive Director of Altri, shares her personal and professional views on the subject of female leadership and explains some of the good practices implemented by the multinational which is leading the way on gender equality.

We wanted to explore the vision of an inherently female-orientated company, so we spoke with Paula Pimentel, the director-general of Beiersdorf Portugal. People might not know the name of this German multinational skincare company, but it has a worldwide presence, with brands such as Nivea, Nivea Men, Eucerin and Hansaplast.

Female leadership?

It’s certainly an interesting subject. Obviously all professional women face some unique challenges: achieving a work/life balance, and understanding how to express a solid and credible opinion, particularly in more male-dominated work environments. Women should try to understand why some companies have organisational cultures which don’t promote equal treatment. First of all, we have to assess whether this situation can be solved or overcome; sometimes companies really do need help in this area . As women move along their career path, the challenge grows even bigger, as the pool of peers shrinks and becomes more demanding.

What are the main characteristics of female leadership?

Studies show that women’s leadership is more democratic and liberal than men’s – women involve their colleagues to a greater extent – and they are also different in how they communicate and relate to others and are aware of everything around them. They generally have more empathy and are more sensitive to detail, while men generally have a broader vision, with a stricter and more controlled view of things. 

How would you classify the importance of women in the world of management and business?

We know that men and women have different ways of heading up their projects, but the important thing is to lead their teams to achieve their goals. We know that women bring a different and complementary vision to organisations and that companies can only benefit from having this more fully-rounded vision. Nevertheless, we mustn’t forget that a great leader will always have some characteristics which are intrinsic to their personality, regardless of whether they are male or female, such as organisational ability, intelligence, assertiveness, curiosity, creativity, a medium and long-term vision and, above all, the ability to communicate and inspire… I believe that leadership style is influenced by multiple factors: the culture in which a person is working, their upbringing, academic education and the companies where they cut their teeth – all these factors play an important role in shaping leadership style. 

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I admit that sometimes we have trouble attracting young male managers to work in the field of skin and face creams and lotions.

What differences can you see in the younger generations in this regard? 

I believe that for younger generations it’s almost a non-issue. But it’s interesting that when men and women enter the job market (and at multinationals we like to recruit young graduates and infuse them with our DNA), we see very different levels of maturity. A 22/23 year-old woman is generally much more mature than a man of the same age. Then we see motherhood being put on hold, because people want to further their careers before making bigger financial commitments. And motherhood can greatly alter a woman’s performance, depending on whether or not she has family support. Companies really should support female employees during this stage. It’s a time of great personal fulfilment, but also of immense pressure for women. Fortunately, we are seeing this stage of life being increasingly shared between men and women.

If we want a gender-balanced company and a gender-balanced society, we have to analyse the support the company provides during this stage of life. If there is an equilibrium during the experience of motherhood, backed up by family and logistical support, then women can generally resume their careers with a renewed energy and desire, and their feminine characteristics will shine through in their career development and leadership.

With one foot in two worlds as different as Beiersdorf – leading skincare brands – and Altri – cellulose fibre/energy industry –, whats your perception of how gender equality has evolved in each one?

As a leading multinational in cosmetics and skincare products, and as a highly commercial market-orientated company, Beiersdorf chiefly recruits young Management or Engineering graduates, but because of our products we appeal more to women.

I admit that sometimes we have trouble attracting young male managers to work in the field of skin and face creams and lotions. They prefer jobs in areas with which they identify more fully, for example, investment and banking, etc. Once they join the company, they end up loving it and realising that it’s not an exclusively female science/industry.

With regard to Altri, I feel that the issue of gender equality is being given the importance it deserves and I’ve seen that there’s a real desire to develop the opportunities afforded by a gender equality policy, to assess the programmes the company can develop to support childbirth, support employees and support families with young children.

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I urge anyone who has sisters or daughters to treat their female colleagues or bosses how they would like the women in their family to be treated and thought of in their workplace.

With regard to this issue, which of Beiersdorfs policies are you most proud of?

In the case of Beiersdorf, as we are a company with fewer employees (we have factories in just seven locations around the world), we are delighted whenever we discover an employee is about to become a mother or father. If it’s a female employee we start quite early on to recruit her replacement so that she can pass the baton in a timely manner and to make sure the whole process runs smoothly. The main thing is for our employee to feel she has time for her maternity and motherhood. Returning to work is also quite special. We are putting together an activity whereby children visit their parents’ place of work, but this project has been delayed because of the pandemic. 

There’s also a project throughout southern Europe about gender equality, which addresses the different stages of a woman’s life, and the support a company may provide; as a child, her first job, childbirth and being a mother to young children, and approaching old age.

If you could leave a message to our male readership about gender equality, what would you say?

It’s a privilege to have female employees, colleagues, bosses or leaders, and our male readers will surely find them resilient, creative and empathetic. I also urge anyone who has sisters or daughters to treat their female colleagues or bosses how they would like the women in their family to be treated and thought of in their workplace. You can be sure that this will make Altri more colourful, with more positive energy, and better results!

Four main traits of female leaders


1. Resilience
Women are fearless and focused when they have to overcome problems and make their voices be heard. Nowadays we value leaders who persevere, who try to overcome challenges against this backdrop of uncertainty that we are facing.

2. Empathy
Female leaders tend to more readily put themselves in someone else’s shoes and place more emphasis on each person’s human side. In this way, they contribute much towards the company’s environment, and have a strong motivational attitude, generously stimulating, motivating and inspiring everyone around them.

3. Horizontality
Women prefer proximity management, they generally don’t put themselves on a pedestal, and encourage everyone to participate, bringing colleagues together and forming more cohesive and efficient teams.

4. Flexibility
Another female quality is multitasking. Women generally manage their responsibilities and simultaneously meet their team members’ needs. As well as this, they are perhaps better able to adapt to change and see the signs.