Women supporting women is crucial
Maria Themeli* is an all-rounder: entrepreneur, writer and active in politics through local government. Following a long, successful career in banking, she now runs her own strategic communications company and her vision is to inspire women to pursue the future they deserve.
By Katerina Vallogianni of Women Leaders magazine
Maria Themeli has a background in corporate communications. She served as Divisional Manager, Corporate Affairs and Marketing, at Marfin Egnatia Bank and as Communications Consultant at B&M Theocharakis Foundation. She also developed the first BNI chapters in Greece. BNI (Business Network International) is a pioneering, innovative global business network. She is now an entrepreneur, running her own strategic communications company. Maria also serves as an Entrepreneurship Advisor to the Municipality of Palaio Faliro and has been in charge of planning local events to celebrate the Bicentennial – 200 years of Modern Greece (1821-2021), since October 2020. She is actively engaged in and organises charity events, promotes volunteering and writes articles. From a young age, she has been writing short stories, articles and fairy tales. Her fairy tale Princess Luck and How to Conquer Her is her first official attempt at publishing. This year, she also participated in the collective volume I Am a Threat, with 99 other women.
Women Leaders: How has your path been, starting from the banking sector to setting up your own company? Do you identify any similarities or differences in the challenges you had to face as a woman throughout this journey?
Maria Themeli: To be honest, the transition from a strictly corporate environment, such as a bank, to establishing your own company is a major shock at first. And this is also a strange journey. You often hear how you left a safe and structured environment to pursue what? You need to find answers for others but for yourself too; to face your fears and the challenges you take up every day, which others often exaggerate or confirm.
Nonetheless, challenge is usually the most powerful motivator and to me it also works as a youth elixir. A woman who decides to change her course and escape a structured and stable setting needs to overcome many fears relating to her gender, age, potential failure, survival. Women usually tend to face changes in a vigorous manner. This is because usually our only option is to adjust to the new circumstances. So we have trained ourselves accordingly and we are great at it. Therefore, my journey has been tough, with many rejections, with many new elements, but has most certainly been an amazing experience. My banking experience, and specifically in such a large organisation, was the best training. It helped me start my own company and apply all I had learnt in a way that ensures the successful planning and implementation of a communication strategy for my clients. Those two career paths do share common traits, such as intensive work, focus on optimising results and continuous training. Yet, they are quite different. Pursuing a career in banking is a relatively safe choice. Starting your own business means that every day you have to introduce yourself to the market and adapt to an ever-changing setting. It is a challenge. Everything depends on you, even the simplest of things, like keeping yourself healthy and stable while balancing on your high heels or choosing to take them off to be able to come back to work tomorrow.
As a woman who is active in various fields, would you say that you feel “responsible” for the example you set for younger women and girls?
I don’t see that as a responsibility, but rather as joy, being able to affect younger women and girls. Of course, we all make mistakes and not always set the best of examples. To me, writing articles is important. This way, I have the chance to express opinions and help people. I also write children’s books and essays. My writing usually features an educational and self-help aspect. I teach communication in seminars and I am a member in female associations mentoring younger girls. This way, I feel that I play my part in helping younger people who are just now starting out. I enjoy inspiring strength and positivity in them through my personal journey.
Have you faced any challenges in achieving the much-desired work-life balance? On which criteria do you base your decisions?
It is very difficult to strike a perfect balance. Let’s be honest, whatever you concentrate on will produce the best outcome. When I feel that the scales are tipping one way or another, I try harder to shift the balance. I do not believe you can achieve perfect balance and happiness. However, I believe there are many moments you can make it and feel really balanced and happy on both levels, professional and personal. The criteria I apply every day are empathy, self-consciousness, self-criticism and confidence. If you are able to love yourself, then you can truly love other people and your work.
How important is it for women to support other women?
I think it’s crucial. I am positive that by becoming a role model for a woman and helping her, you contribute to fostering female entrepreneurship, and battling gender-based inequalities and discrimination. I really enjoy writing for women and young girls. Princess Luck and How to Conquer Her is my first fairy tale with a figurative meaning. It fosters enthusiasm and consent, and helps girls become the best guardian of their own luck against their greatest enemy, fear. I have also contributed my story to the book I Αm a Threat. In my story, a woman is only threatening once she decides so. A woman’s greater threat is that she may let her guard down, fail to negotiate, fail to make demands, and, therefore, risk becoming a threat to herself. Through my stories I wish to empower women and inspire them to pursue the future they deserve.
“Starting your own business means that every day you have to introduce yourself to the market and adapt to an ever-changing setting. It is a challenge. Everything depends on you, even the simplest of things, like keeping yourself healthy and stable while balancing on your high heels or choosing to take them off to be able to come back to work tomorrow.”
* Maria Themeli is a master mariner’s daughter
This interview was firstly published in greek at Boussias’ magazine “Women Leaders” https://www.boussias.com/