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Executive Education

INSEAD Coaching Certificate

Overcoming Challenges with Self-Belief and Positivity

Geraldine Conti

People Engagement Accelerator at BNL BNP Paribas

This brings to mind a song that has always resonated deeply with me: ‘It's the end of the world as we know it.’ This song has always filled me with a sense of positivity and optimism, because it speaks of the power of embracing change, leveraging our past experiences and legacies to build something new and exciting – something I'm deeply passionate about.

Geraldine Conti is an inspiring human resources (HR) professional who exudes an air of positivity and resilience. The challenges that she has overcome on her journey are a testimony to her unwavering determination and positive mindset. Geraldine emphasises the importance of self-belief, recounting how she made a conscious choice to believe in herself during difficult times. This belief, she explains, was not merely a statement but a daily exercise that she practices diligently.

“First and foremost, I believe in myself. This belief wasn't always easy to embrace, but I made a choice years ago to trust in my abilities, even during the toughest of times. It’s been a daily exercise that has helped me through challenges and uncertainties,” she says.

“Another important belief I hold dear is responsibility. I've learned to accept and handle the weight of my responsibilities, both professionally and personally. This mindset guides me in my daily actions and decisions.”

Lastly, she says, “There's energy. I've realised that managing my energy is crucial for success and well-being. Every day, I focus on protecting, preserving and channelling my energy positively, knowing that it can influence those around me.”

Geraldine had left behind her life in Rome over a decade ago in 2009 and embarked on a new chapter in Paris to pursue a global role in human resources management at BNL BNP Paribas. This move highlighted her courage and willingness to step outside her comfort zone.

“This transition was particularly challenging as I was not only starting a new job but was also a first-time mother with a four-month-old son. While my mother helped with child minding, I juggled the demands of my job, which involved managing operations across 15 countries, 
constant travel, and being in an unfamiliar place with a new culture,” says Geraldine. As time passed, she gradually adapted to life in Paris. What initially felt like an insurmountable challenge eventually became a source of growth as she learned to appreciate the beauty and opportunities the city had to offer.

In her career, Geraldine has encountered other challenges, including overseeing a bank in Ukraine with nearly 4,500 employees and keeping the bank operational despite the ongoing conflict. Remarkably, all branches remained open from the start of the conflict and continue to serve customers to this day.

This accomplishment instilled a profound sense of self-confidence and sense of responsibility for our staff. We experienced a deep sense of relief to be going to work, we were encouraged by the energy generated from successfully navigating the crisis,

A limitless mindset

Returning to Rome after years abroad, Geraldine embraced her role as the head of people and culture at BNL BNP Paribas. Leading a significant change management process, she emphasises the importance of positivity and optimism in shaping outcomes. Her daily practice of projecting positivity and envisioning success helped her tackle challenges and inspire her teams.

“Today, I find myself back in Rome, leading transformative change initiatives in the banking industry. As the head of people and culture at BNL BNP Paribas in Italy, I'm driving change that aligns with the evolving needs of our world.”

Reflecting on the concept of being limitless, Geraldine emphasised that it was primarily a state of mind—one that required continuous nurturing and self-reflection, about challenging and pushing the limits. This has helped her in recent years, when she has found herself riding waves of change, exploring new directions and possibilities.

“This brings to mind a song that has always resonated deeply with me: ‘It's the end of the world as we know it.’ This song has always filled me with a sense of positivity and optimism, because it speaks to the power of embracing change, leveraging our past experiences and legacies to build something new and exciting – something I'm deeply passionate about,” says Geraldine.

In today's world, where content abounds and competition for attention is fierce, effective communication is more crucial than ever. To stand out, we must carefully choose our words to craft a compelling narrative, says Geraldine.

The words we use not only shape our external communication but also influence our internal thoughts and attitudes.

There's a quote by Seamus Heaney that deeply resonates with me: If you have the words, there is always a chance that you will find the way. This captures the transformative potential of language – with the right words, we can navigate even the most challenging circumstances and forge new paths forward,” she shares.

Reflecting on her journey of personal and professional growth, the pivotal experience that profoundly shaped Geraldine’s narrative was when her son, Giulio, was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the tender age of three and a half, which required insulin injections multiple times in a day. Her son's unwavering optimism and joy for life shaped her approach to leadership and reinforced her commitment to positive change.

“This diagnosis meant a complete upheaval of our lives as a family and forced me to navigate new territory as a mother and a professional. Raising a child with a chronic illness taught me invaluable lessons about inclusion, diversity, and resilience,” says Geraldine.

“Witnessing Giulio's unwavering optimism and joy for life despite his condition inspired me to redefine my narrative and approach to challenges. I learned to let go of the notion of being a ‘Wonder Woman’ and instead focused on being a source of strength and support for him. His unwavering spirit serves as a constant reminder that challenges can be overcome with positivity, determination, and a resilient mindset. His simple yet profound outlook on life taught me to embrace the essentials and find joy in every moment.”

Optimism and self-belief

Reflecting on her sources of inspiration, she cites strong, responsible and energetic women like Joan of Arc, and contemporary icons such as Mother Teresa and Samantha Cristoforetti.

“I've always been very attracted by the passion Joan of Arc had and for the change that she did, being a female leader in a world completely dominated by men and the mindsets of people around her during the medieval ages,” says Geraldine.

Another inspiration is Samantha Cristoforetti, whose courage touches Geraldine. She is an Italian European Space Agency astronaut, was the first Italian woman in space, and is the first European woman to take command of the International Space Station Expedition in 2022.

Discussing her leadership style, Geraldine highlights the power of positivity and active participation where one plus one is greater than two to drive impactful outcomes. While acknowledging differences in leadership approaches between genders, she emphasises the evolving nature of leadership and the need to redefine traditional power dynamics in favour of inclusivity and collaboration.

Geraldine notes the persistent barriers affecting gender equity in the banking industry, particularly the challenges women face in re-entering the workforce after childbirth or caregiving for seniors in the family responsibilities. She emphasises the importance of creating a flexible work environment to support women's career continuity and proposes initiatives to influence the government’s policies around maternity leave.

Looking ahead, Geraldine envisions a future where gender inclusivity is no longer a topic of discussion but a reality and a societal norm. Even as she advocates for continued efforts to educate and empower future generations, she herself embodies the values of resilience, inclusivity, and determination, setting an example for others to follow.