In today’s episode of the SHE Word, we’re tackling the topic of women in the workplace. For this important conversation, Trudy Kerry is joined by Krystle Penza, Tiziana Ceci, and Liz Barbaro Sant.


Today’s episode is a special one for us because our very own Founder and Managing Director, Krystle Penza is one of the three amazing powerhouses being interviewed by Trudy Kerr. The other two amazing women joining the discussion are Tiziana Ceci, General Manager of one of the most incredible phenomena in Malta, Brown’s, and Liz Barbaro Sant, CEO of Alberta and also Vice President of the Malta Chamber.

All three women on the podcast today have an incredible story about how their careers flourished. So, how did they get to where they are today?

‘I started working when I was 17’, claims Liz. ‘I worked for 9 months as a receptionist at AX Group. At the age of 19, my dad told me to join the family business, Alberta. At the time, there were only five employees and 32 years later, we’re now a team of 400 people, with three companies and an office in Libya. It’s been a long and fun journey. Nothing comes without perseverance and hard work. Since the business is in the fire and security industry, it is a very male-dominated environment’.

The pharmacy phenomena of Brown’s are literally everywhere on the island and Tiziana started her career with Brown’s as a pharmacist. ‘The company had only three pharmacies at the time. The men who were running the business (very nice men!) wanted to create an environment with like-minded people and to create something different. They wanted to attract people with a passion for customer service. The journey started 23 years ago, and I joined 18 years ago, right before the new company branding started. Over the years, we have been acquiring pharmacies and we attract a lot of hard-working women to the business. I believe that Brown’s owes its success to always having a platform where women could flourish’.

Krystle’s start is different from Liz and Tiziana’s journey. It all started ten years ago when Krystle gave birth to her daughter Francesca. ‘When I held her in my arms, I felt that I needed to do something with more purpose. That’s how Mvintage started, trying to create a better world for my daughter. As a company, we now have six stores and our online site. We’re a group of 90 women and men. I created my own culture and family, and everyone is valued by what they bring to the table’.

These three women have something in common – all of their companies have been phenomenal success. This is a fantastic story to share. However, Trudy rightly points out that this is not always the case for many women. Statistics show that women occupy 13% less than men in the same role across Europe. Also, it is shown that women have to work 10% harder in the same role across Europe. All over the world, we see an imbalance between men and women.

Tiziana claims that she never perceived her gender to be a limitation. However, Liz being in a male-dominated industry, started to realise that this was a reality.

‘In my younger years, I never realised that there could be gender barriers. However, being in a male-dominated world, it is clear that gender barriers are still an issue. I’m not technical and I didn’t go to university. I believe that as you go along, you learn to be assertive and to show that you know what you’re doing. It’s all about values and ethics. Every day we have to work to prove ourselves. I do think

women have to work harder than men, although we can see this changing nowadays. We’re recruiting more female engineers and technicians. As long as you can do the job. Sometimes, I think that we as women, tend to limit ourselves and we worry too much about what other people think’.

Krystle fully agrees with Liz’s latter point. ‘If something has always been ingrained and pre-conditioned in your brain, you will believe it, whether this is true or not. I see a lot of people limiting themselves. I was brought up with a single mother, so I never had a female or male figure at home. In my head, I couldn’t distinguish between the two. No one told me there was a man or female role’.

Trudy turns the conversation to breaking away from the traditional role of the homemaker which all three women had to do since they run such powerful businesses. However, are all women able to do that?

Tiziana claims that if you choose not to do something, there has to be someone who can do it instead. ‘One of the things that we need to do is understand what we’re strong at and persevere at it. We need to surround ourselves with people who make up for our weaknesses and allow us to be strong where we’re strong. Even at work, there are things that I don’t do but there are people who are good at them. Surrounding ourselves with people who make us better and compliment us is key’.

As women, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves that we have to do everything and be good at everything.

Krystle agrees with this point. ‘We’re brought up to believe that we have to be the good wife, the perfect mother, be into sports, have a nice wardrobe, do our nails, hair, and make-up. Sometimes, I feel this pressure and I feel like I can’t do everything. I try to get to the best that I can, but I learnt that I had to let go of things and to get to that point took a lot of mindset. It was not easy’.

Liz also brings up a very valid point on this subject. ‘Social media has also possibly brought this on us. We see these perfect families and mums online, seeming like they have it all put together. However, life is not like that at all’.

These three incredible women agree on three things. We, as women need a strong support network, we need to learn the act of letting go, and we need to make priorities. This might be a whole new learning for a lot of women. However, Trudy brings up the fact that women tend to be unhelpful to each other. Are women supportive of other women?

‘Throughout my life, I always felt that because I am a woman, I had to keep my place’, says Krystle. ‘I’ve had my very tough journey until I got here. I’ve been looked down on because I was a woman. I started the business when I was 29 so I’ve had meetings where they would call my ex-husband to have a discussion with him after they had just finished a conversation with me. I’ve had people not looking at me for an hour meeting just because I’m a female. I’ve had men who I recruited who didn’t respect me just because I am a woman. That is why company culture is very important to me nowadays’.

‘The more you grow as a company, the more you need to be the guardian of the company and also ensure that women are being fairly treated’, claims Liz.

All three women agree that if you give women the environment to flourish, they will. However, Trudy, playing the devil’s advocate, asks an important question. Why are we still seeing that women are disadvantaged and what do we do about it?

Tiziana claims that the problem needs to be addressed from different facets. ‘I think we need to start with education. Growing up going to an all-girls school, it was difficult for us to be treated equally

when we then entered school or the workplace with boys and men. Nowadays, with co-education, this is starting to change. Change is happening. The fact that the three of us here as all in leadership positions and we can enact change, something good must be happening’.

Liz also believes that change is happening. ‘We have fathers who have taken a step back to raise their children instead of the women and mothers sending their kids to childcare and continuing with their career. We need to accept that in life, we can’t have it all. In life there are trade-offs.’

Trudy starts bringing the conversation to a close. Seeing these three women do so well in their careers is motivating and empowering. What would you say to women right now to empower them to be the best they can be in the workplace?

‘I encourage women not to be hard on themselves,’ says Krystle. ‘Follow your heart and do what you’re passionate about because then things will come much easier. I worked hard to get to where I am today. When my friends were at the beach, at the gym, sleeping, partying…I was at work, but I wouldn’t change it. That was my journey; one that I would choose over and over again. Everyone has their own path choices, and we all need to find our purpose. This is what drives us to be happy. Once you’re happy, you deliver kindness. Find happiness for yourself first because only then can you make everyone around you happy’.

‘I enjoyed working hard and I also spent time investing in my education. It wasn’t easy but I set my goals and I wanted to achieve them. That’s my advice. Depending on the goals you set for yourself, you will then understand how hard you have to work to achieve them’, says Tiziana.

‘Fear is just an illusion’, says Liz. ‘It’s important to do things and not be scared. Get out of your comfort zone. Learn because you will become complacent. I’m also a firm believer in doing things the ethical way and always respecting values. In the end, it will pay off. You might not see it at the time but doing the right thing, even when no one is looking, is very important’.

Thank you, ladies, for being so inspiring and motivating!