Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Leaders – Valentina Maggiore

Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Leaders - Valentina Maggiore
Diversity and Inclusion
Female Leaders

In the second interview in the series celebrating International Women’s Day by delving into the professional journeys of inspiring women leaders, Margaret Jaouadi spoke with Valentina Maggiore, VP of Global Marketing & Sales Enablement at Maxeon Solar Technologies. Valentina, a dedicated advocate for advancing women’s careers, shares her firsthand experiences and invaluable advice. Her insights and practical advice on mentorship selection and key focus areas for aspiring women leaders aiming for senior-level roles resonate strongly, offering a roadmap toward a brighter and more inclusive future.

Special thanks go to Rupert Haffenden, Head of Sector – Renewable Energy & Cleantech and Associate Director at Pacific International Executive Search, for introducing Valentina Maggiore to Margaret Jaouadi.

Margaret Jaouadi
Please introduce yourself and tell us about the scope of your role at Maxeon.

Valentina Maggiore
I’m Valentina Maggiore, an Italian based in Brescia, near Milan, heading up global marketing for Maxeon Solar Technologies, a global leader in solar solutions. Maxeon emerged as an independent company in 2020 following its spin-off from US-based SunPower Corporation and now operates the SunPower brand in all global markets and the Maxeon brand in North America and Japan.

I’ve been part of the company for 13 years, starting at SunPower Corporation before rising to my current role at Maxeon where I oversee a diverse team spread across five continents, managing everything from brand and corporate communication to product marketing, field activities, and digital marketing. It’s a challenging but exciting mix.
The global scope brings cultural, mindset, work and life outlook, and business priority differences. Dealing with distinct markets adds another layer of complexity. Despite these challenges, my time with the company has been very rewarding.

My journey in solar began in 2006 when I stumbled upon an opportunity in renewable energy. Back then, solar wasn’t as prominent, but the idea of working for a multinational company drew me in. Being part of an international environment and a structured company for learning and growth was my goal.

Entering a male-dominated industry didn’t deter me. While I’ve often been the only woman during business events or meetings, it didn’t hinder my career development. Initially hesitant to speak up, I gained confidence by observing my male colleagues, how interact with each other, the language and gestures they use, and how they speak their minds openly. Realizing that I could contribute without fear of judgment was a turning point.

Having supportive bosses played a crucial role. They provided confidence, credit, and opportunities for growth. I believe in “talk the talk, walk the walk” – reliability, dependability, and delivering on promises from the foundation. This builds credibility, making it easier to establish your brand and grow within the organization.

As a marketer, I understand the importance of one’s value proposition and personal brand. Starting with a solid baseline and consistently delivering on promises sets the stage for growth. It’s about creating and maintaining a brand that aligns with your values and promises – an evolving process that requires dedication and authenticity.

Margaret Jaouadi
You mentioned that you had good bosses and people who would give you credit. So that takes us nicely into the question of mentors and role models played a role in shaping your professional development. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What advice would you give to others seeking mentorship?

Valentina Maggiore
Absolutely. So, my learning journey has been rich and filled with insights from various individuals within the organization, both positive and challenging. I consider myself an observer, keen on extracting the best learnings from professionals I’ve encountered. Before my time at SunPower, I had the privilege of working alongside seasoned executives, gaining valuable insights into relationship-building, conducting business, and treating others with respect.

For those seeking mentorship, my advice is simple – ask. Even without a formal program, expressing your interest in being mentored is often well-received. It may involve a bit of vulnerability, but people generally appreciate the request. I’ve never faced rejection when seeking mentorship, and it’s a powerful way to grow.

Selecting a mentor outside your immediate role or organization is especially beneficial. Look for someone you admire, someone with expertise in an area you want to develop. I haven’t had one specific mentor. Instead, I’ve learned from various individuals, sometimes even peers. Mentorship doesn’t always need to be formal; the impact can be substantial even without explicit acknowledgment.

Reflecting on my career, one former boss, a woman with a successful career and a family, stood out. Observing how she managed work and personal life was enlightening. Staying organized in both aspects and allowing others to help were crucial lessons. It’s okay to seek assistance, delegate, and invest in your well-being. Initially, I prided myself on doing everything independently, but the realization that it’s okay to receive support, especially as life gets more demanding, was liberating.

Embracing a mindset shift allowed me to let go and accept help, leading to a healthier work-life balance. Whether it’s hiring assistance at home or allowing family members to contribute, acknowledging that I don’t have to carry everything alone has been a game-changer. It’s about finding what works for you, allowing others to help, and confidently navigating the complexities of work and life.

Margaret Jaouadi
As part of this campaign, we want to put a spotlight on your team members who deserve special recognition for their exceptional contributions and skills.

Valentina Maggiore
I rely on two or three team members whom I not only trust implicitly but also recognize as individuals with tremendous potential for career growth. Their mindset is geared towards proactively aiding, steering initiatives, and going the extra mile to achieve results. They possess a keen attention to detail, exhibiting thoughtfulness in both planning and execution. Furthermore, their reliability is a cornerstone of their character.

Despite their demanding schedules, I am confident in their ability to deliver. Whether it’s handing over responsibilities or seeking input on a confidential project, I know I can count on their expertise. These are the go-to individuals, forming a crucial circle of trust for any leader. This circle serves to alleviate the isolation often felt in leadership roles, especially when confronted with decisions where I may not have all the answers.

Challenging my thinking is essential, and these trusted team members play a pivotal role in that process. Their common sense, alignment with my thought process, and consistent demonstration of dedication make them invaluable. Their willingness to exceed their defined roles showcases a commitment to making things happen, and I trust them wholeheartedly for their ability to deliver outstanding work.

Margaret Jaouadi
I once came across an expression that emphasized the tremendous value of individuals who willingly take tasks off your plate. These are the people, as you mentioned, whom you can trust implicitly. Whether you assign them a task or they proactively volunteer to shoulder responsibilities, you have full confidence that they can seamlessly handle it. These are invaluable individuals who not only understand your needs but can independently run with tasks, making them an indispensable asset to any team or organization.

Valentina Maggiore
Absolutely. It’s not just about task delegation; it’s about the assurance that when I hand something over, it’s in capable hands, and I can let it go from my mind. The confidence that it will be completed perfectly or at least 80% is a tremendous relief. Amid growing responsibilities, managing everything becomes a challenge, and having reliable team members who can independently handle tasks is paramount.

Building this kind of relationship within the team goes beyond professional collaboration. It’s about creating a support system where mutual trust exists. If I find myself in a situation where I need to be away due to a family emergency, I know they have my back, and vice versa. This mutual understanding and commitment make the team a cohesive unit, allowing us to rely on each other seamlessly, not just in work tasks but also in providing support during personal challenges. It’s a two-way street, and this kind of teamwork is truly invaluable.

Margaret Jaouadi
You’ve been a leader for quite a while, and you actively engage in supporting young women’s careers. Drawing from your experience, what strategies or initiatives do you believe have proven most effective in fostering an environment where women can thrive, advance, and succeed in their careers?

Valentina Maggiore
When considering the corporate landscape at Maxeon, there’s a recognition that we still have a significant journey ahead of us. While we’ve made strides in achieving a balanced gender representation at a general level with around 50% female population, the same parity is yet to be realized in leadership roles. It’s a challenge that we are actively addressing with a corporate goal in place to bridge this gap.

Identifying a critical juncture in the mid-career stage where women face hurdles in advancement, we are intently working to understand and tackle these challenges. One of our initiatives is the Women @Maxeon employee resource group, established last year, of which I am the chair. The primary focus of this group is on development and talent retention, aiding women in building the confidence necessary for success.

Building confidence is a crucial aspect often overlooked, and we are committed to addressing it. We aim to equip women with the skills to ask for what they want, to develop successful habits, and overall foster an environment conducive to their professional growth. While we acknowledge that there’s work to be done, initiatives like Women@Maxeon are a testament to our dedication to progress in this direction.

Margaret Jaouadi
As you mentioned, there’s great value in directly engaging with the specific women within your organization. Establishing a group like this provides them with a platform to articulate their needs and concerns, rather than relying solely on top-down initiatives from the corporation.

The bottom-up approach, where the women who are genuinely interested in advancing their careers voice their requirements, tends to be more effective. They can express the need for challenging projects, seek exposure to board-level operations, or even gain insights into the daily responsibilities of a CEO. This approach allows them to outline what would facilitate their professional growth and provide a sneak peek into the next steps of their career journey.

Valentina Maggiore
You hit the nail on the head. Building confidence is a key aspect of our focus, providing women with the tools and support they need to achieve their goals. This year, our emphasis is on development, where we offer tools and host small events to foster open discussions. Importantly, this initiative extends beyond just women – the overarching goal is to create an environment where everyone thrives, both professionally and personally.

Recognizing the impact of a balanced work-life dynamic, we believe it influences all aspects of life positively. While we acknowledge that there’s still work to be done, the journey has begun. In my role as a hiring manager, I actively push Executive Recruiters to provide a diverse pool of candidates. It’s interesting how, in marketing, we sometimes face the challenge of not having enough male candidates. This presents a different aspect of diversity that we actively address.

Diversity in thinking and background is a cornerstone of innovation, and I’m committed to challenging myself to hire individuals with different profiles. By pushing boundaries in recruitment, we encourage people to think beyond the norm and consider a more inclusive approach. It’s not always about formal programs; it’s about initiating a change in mindset, breaking the traditional patterns, and fostering a culture of inclusivity. It’s about provoking a different way of thinking and embracing diversity in all its forms.

Margaret Jaouadi
The last question: you mentor young women and chair the Women@Maxeon group, what are the three key actions that you would advise women to focus on to position themselves for senior-level leadership roles within their organizations?

Valentina Maggiore
Building credibility is a fundamental step, and it’s crucial to be exceptional at what you do. This advice is applicable universally, regardless of gender. Being trustworthy, dependable, and delivering on promises is key. The second piece of advice is to actively claim your seat at the table. Don’t shy away from asking for what you deserve, whether it’s acknowledgment, credit, or participation in projects. Showcase your achievements factually and celebrate them, contributing to the business’s success.
Instilling confidence to lead and encouraging them to embrace their authentic selves. Additionally, it involves providing the space for them to carve their path. Many women want to navigate their journey in a way that feels right for them, and it’s crucial to reassure them that they have support.

Navigating this can be challenging, especially when, like in my case, my family didn’t come from a corporate background. My dad had a small business, and my mom was a teacher. Early in my career, I had numerous questions, realizing that my parents couldn’t provide the guidance I needed. Their advice, while well-intentioned, lacked the understanding of the dynamics within a multinational company, the environment I aspired to be a part of. So, I had to recognize the need to seek advice from those who understood the corporate landscape I was navigating. And this is where networking comes in.

Networking is not something I’m very good at, unfortunately, and improving this is something I want to focus on this year. Networking can be challenging, especially in non-customer-facing roles or remote work environments. Despite these obstacles, networking is essential, particularly for women as they progress in their careers. It’s about building your brand and being present. Networking should be seen as a positive activity, not opportunistic but rather a science of connecting, supporting others, and receiving support in return. Even with a small, thoughtful network of four or five individuals, you can cultivate meaningful relationships over time with discipline and dedication.

Women are catching on to how men have cultivated connections for centuries, recognizing the effectiveness of these activities and embracing similar approaches through joining women-only clubs and discovering the value of building genuine professional friendships.

Margaret Jaouadi
Thank you for this wonderful conversation and your invaluable insights, Valentina.

For a confidential chat about how Pacific International can assist you with your Renewable Energy Talent Acquisitions and Diversity challenges, please contact Rupert Haffenden or one of our Executive Search Consultants specialising in your sector.