Iolanda Batallé: "The feminist revolution paves the way for differences"

8 min
Iolanda Batallé

BarcelonaIolanda Batallé is, above all, a cultural agitator, a publisher who runs the Institut Ramon Llull and who could not help but writing about her management experience. She has just published a book entitled Atrévete a hacer las cosas a tu manera (translated as, "dare to do things your own way") (Destino).

Is the book a women's leadership manual?

— I advocate for the difference to reach positions of responsibility and that the person who arrives can share the responsibility by being who she is. I do not use the word manual because everyone must find their own way. Therefore, I consider it more a conscience, an inspiration, a space or an experience to share, which can be useful, inspiring for different people, especially young people, who have few role models of women in responsibility positions.

First line: "It is not easy for a girl to find role models"

— In the textbooks of the 70s and 80s there were very few role models in almost all disciplines, but what is very dramatic is that today, in 2021, in textbooks, in the disciplines where there are more women as role models, there are 6%, and in many, 1%. If you're a girl, you see a lot of spaces where you're not present. Therefore, if you want to be a nuclear physicist and you don't find any role models in the book, where can you find them?

In the kitchen?

— It's true that one of the role models in my life is my grandmother, or my mother. I saw that in the kitchen many things happened, it was the machine room, like a production or management team can be the machine room of a company. I think it is important to recover these human spaces and apply them to the business world.

That's where you say you decided you would be "a happy person"?

— Yes, in one way or another we all grow up and experience, each one of us in our family, the problems and difficulties that we have to live with, and throughout life there are moments in which one decides whether to face it from a position of tenderness, from a certain level of joy, or from sadness and pain. It is a decision. I don't mean the happiness that is being sold to us, but the conscious decision to be there from a positive perspective.

You link feelings and leadership.

— The role models of power and responsibility were often men, and they often had an angry face. So it's a matter of saying, "No, you can lead, you can be very responsible, very hardworking, and you can do it with a smile. But not with a false smile, but because you want to do it from a certain level of tenderness, which does not mean that you do not exercise discipline, hardness, responsibility. Perhaps you do it much more than these people who present themselves as being so serious, but you do it from a different tone, because from this tone of confidence, of believing in the other, of welcoming feelings, a team is generated that is capable of really showing itself as it is in any situation...

Is this leadership that stems from the recognition of feelings, empathetic, that gets people together and that does not work mortifying itself, necessarily feminine? Are there not men that work in this way?

— It is not necessarily feminine. One of the keys of the feminist revolution is to pave the way for difference. In life I have met all kinds of people and even if we want to avoid this simple binary male-female difference, there are more and more realities that work in this way, and many women and many, many men who don't work this way. There is a hetero-patriarchal consciousness in place in which we have grown. The first women to reach positions of responsibility were often forced to do so, or felt they had to do so to be accepted, but I think we are in another phase. Often, when we arrive at these places, we are told: "Now you've arrived, now you're here, eh? Now don't you do much more than this". But I have come to do it my way, not to be quiet in a corner and be a quota. So I don't think it's a male or a female thing, but the historical directions and leaderships that we've grown up with have almost all had many of these characteristics.

Perhaps the first to be liberated are men themselves...

— This new way of doing liberates both men and women, as well as anyone, anyone who is different and who wants to work differently in a position of responsibility.

You talk about cheating the system.

— Breaking patterns just for the sake of doing it is not essential and may not even be necessary. What is needed, when you get to any place where you work, is to observe, to understand what is going on. It is very common to hear phrases like "it has always been done this way here, but not this, this can't be done this way", and this often makes any project more difficult. But when I talk about breaking patterns, I talk about breaking situations that by the passage of time are somehow frozen. Someone who comes from outside still has this capacity to rise up and generate change. It's good that this same person, after six or eight years, moves on to another challenge.

You got to Institut Ramon Llull from a private company. How was your first experience in public administration?

— I was told, "You can't cope with slowness, how will you be able to do things?", and the truth is that since 2018, since I am director of the Institut Ramon Llull, I have been able to create a management team in which I believe a great deal and with which we share the whole project of this revolution that we are undertaking. A digital revolution, of transversality, of gender... I work, we work and I have worked more or less the same as in any private company. I found an institution with a lot of knowledge in all the cultural disciplines of the Catalan Countries: architecture, design, visual arts, literature, teaching Catalan. What we do is taking culture, teaching, research, all the artistic disciplines of the Catalan Countries to the world, and today digital opportunities have accelerated these processes.

Let's go back to your vision of how to make things happen. The recognition of power, if it comes from a man, is taken for granted. If it comes from a woman, how do you win?

— It is earned by working, like everything else, and I also think that taking certain things for granted is not good, because the person gets comfortable, gets there with this feeling of "I was born to be a director" and may not try so hard. Often women, when we are offered a position of responsibility, the first question we ask ourselves is: "Will I know how to do this? What do I need in order to do it?" And we over-prepare. The recognition of power is gained by breaking old patterns, prejudices, stereotypes, and, if it is not taken for granted, it works better.

Are you used to men explaining things to you, like in Rebecca Solnit's book of the same name? Someone explained a scientific book to her, of which she was the author, and she called it mansplaining. Can we laugh about it?

— I'm not used to it, I'll never get used to it. I consider this approach -"I know everything"- very unhelpful. It is much more useful to say that you know much less than you do, because then the environment you are leading feels comfortable to tell you things. I haven't gotten used to it and I try to make it clear with a smile, which is always better than looking angry.

Do many women lack security?

— I wouldn't call it security. In fact, when a man does this, I think it's more of a gesture of insecurity. The confident people who have inspired me in life in all disciplines, men and women, have often been fairly quiet people who don't explain too much, or only talk when you ask them about something.

I feel a little uncomfortable talking about these categorical stereotypes between men and women. We could get used to talking about values and not gender, couldn't we?

— We agree that it is not a matter of men and women, but a matter of values and how you deal with positions of responsibility, with decisions, without having to copy patterns.

Iolanda Batallé, photographed in Barcelona.

Are emotionality and rationality opposed?

— I believe in listening to emotions, but when it comes to deciding we don't have to decide from these emotions, at least not from a very sensitive one. I know that when I have my period, a few days earlier, I am more sensitive and it is often easier for me to get angry; therefore, these days I try to not take any decisions or be in any situation that I see as very complex in which I could get angry with someone. I let it rest. This happens to me, each person knows themselves, each one knows when his or her emotions are at their peak. Our teams have to be able to feel comfortable showing weakness, and this does not make them less valid professionally, but this is different than directing from emotionality.

How do you create a team that works?

Surround yourself with people who complement you and each other, great professionals in their disciplines. My job is not to know it all about everything. As a director, my job is to promote the company, the institution, the project, to make it move forward and therefore at the same time also to make all the people in the team grow, not just the management team: the whole team. A good team is a team that feels comfortable, that feels calm, that does not distrust each other, and this is not easy - it requires a lot of work.

Is the first step towards failure to have a docile team?

— Yes. I really like the people around me to inspire and enlighten me. Sometimes I don't agree with them; that is, we have debates and sometimes heated private discussions. One of the dangers of coaching is that people often say yes to you, and that everything is fine, when everything is not fine. Therefore, I value very much those people who, from an educated point of view, tell you, "I don't think so". Of course, if you have a docile team, like you say, people won't tell you what they think. So you have to ask yourself: why is it docile? Is it docile because they are afraid? Is it docile because it does not dare to speak? I, above all, like very much to bring theory down to facts, but there must always be people who like theory, and perhaps facts not so much. It's all right, others will get it down to it, those who are more in the world of ideas have to feel sure that they can talk nonsense.

Is giving time the most difficult thing?

— Part of the most important work is the work that is not seen but that bears fruit. I am very happy when someone sees a company or an institution and says "Wow, what a great atmosphere". You can't fake that.

You talk at some point about "the sisterhood", but the cliché is that women compete with each other...

It's very curious, because, as I'm sure you do, I've been told this since I was a child, and I've been told it by men and women. My experience is that the women in my life, my friends, my family, my work colleagues, have helped me a lot. This is still a cliché, a prejudice that many people are still interested in reinforcing. And we have to break it down.

Are we living a revolution of values, of gender?

The pandemic has made us feel that we are weak, that we need each other. Feminism is breaking down the cracks for many other revolutions: the ecological revolution, the proximity revolution, the energy revolution, the digital revolution. Not moving away from our home studio is a very big value and it is saving energy, it is saving economy, it is personal savings too, it means saving on combining personal and professional life. That is to say, I believe that we are facing a revolution from many points of view and that feminism is not only talking about the women's revolution, but that through this revolution we can reach or help, collaborate, with all the other revolutions, which are many.