September 12, 2013 — Welcome to the latest in our series of #WomenCan profiles, highlighting executives and experts who are Catalysts for change within their companies and fields.
Meet: Caterina Meier-Pfister, Executive Director, UN Women National Committee, Zurich, Switzerland
My role models: My Swiss Italian grandmother was an artist who fought for the right to attend the Art Academy in Milan at a time when being a painter was an unorthodox choice for a woman. She lived her passion daily until the age of 102. My Swiss German grandmother raised a family of four while managing the accounts for my grandfather’s rapidly growing real estate business. She also lived to be 102. It wasn’t until after my grandfather died that I realized her true strength.
Multilingual and multitalented: I grew up in the German part of Switzerland speaking both Italian and German (my mother is from the Italian part of Switzerland). Having always had a great interest in languages, I learned French and English at school and later I learned Spanish. I studied law at the University of Lausanne (in the French part of Switzerland) and later added a postgraduate course from the University of Applied Sciences of Aargau in mediation in business, environment, and administration.
Career path: My career took me from IBM, where I was a Marketing System Engineer, to the national marketing organisation Switzerland Tourism as Head of Quality Management, to Ernst & Young, where I was Head of HR Marketing, Switzerland, to the Max Havelaar Foundation, the fair trade labelling organisation in Switzerland, where I was Head of Communications as well as Deputy to the CEO. After working for 15 years in different communications positions and across different industries, I spent another three years as a communications consultant.
Advocating for women: Eventually, I was offered the opportunity to become Executive Director of the National Committee of UN Women. UN Women is the UN organisation tasked with empowering women worldwide to live in safety, equality, and dignity. The Swiss National Committee raises awareness for selected UN Women topics as well as funds for UN Women projects in developing countries. Travelling in Europe, and later in Africa, South America, and Asia, gave me a broader perspective and a deeper understanding of different cultures. It also made me want to help create a more equitable world for everybody.
Heavy on the praise, light on the micro-managing: Throughout the different organisations I’ve worked for, I’ve seen firsthand how motivating it is if a superior gives credit, responsibility, and a fair amount of leeway to his or her team members.
Words of advice: Periodically explore your professional interests and identify potentially interesting opportunities. Cultivate the flexbility to grasp opportunities as they arise, even if they are unexpected. Have the courage to apply for jobs in organisations that are of interest to you, even if no open positions are being advertised. If you sell your interest and enthusiasm and emphasize what you can contribute to the organisation’s success, doors will open that you did not even know existed.
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