How Human-Centric Leadership Made Chiara Ferragni A Successful Businesswoman

Written by Rossina Gitto, Founder @ The Humans of HR, June 2021

Some people know her as The Blonde Salad, others, as one of the most powerful public figures of today’s fashion world. I personally know Chiara Ferragni as the perfect example of a successful female entrepreneur, and as a leader who is not afraid to be human. In reflection of this year’s Women’s History activism, for which the United Nations’ entity dedicated to gender equality and female empowerment, UN Women (2021) asked for more awareness around female leadership, I thought it could be interesting to highlight Chiara’s qualities as an inspiring leader.

Most women can confirm the facts that UN Women (2021) lays out. Women…

  • Are less likely than men to be entrepreneurs due to a lack of encouragement.
  • Face more challenges when starting a business due to their gender.
  • Have a hard time reaching leadership positions within companies.
  • Are highly likely to suffer from sexual harassment in a work setting.
  • Are paid less compared to their male coworkers for the exact same inputs.
    And lastly…
  • Don’t always find the working world to be a friendly place as mothers.

We (women) also know very well what the world of work constantly tells us: “don’t be outspoken“, “don’t brag about your accomplishments if you want to get where you want“, and most importantly, “never dare to wear a pair of pink glitter heels to a business meeting” – something that Chiara Ferragni is guilty of, according to Sanderson (2019), who interviewed her for the Financial Times in 2019.


Figure 1. Photograph of Chiara Ferragni Collection pink glitter heels “All The Glitter Shoes You’ll Need In The Next Weeks.” Taken from The Blonde Salad Blog by The Blonde Salad, 2019.

Amongst many out there that refuse to listen to counter-productive and diminishing gender-based work advice, and more specifically, anti-personal branding advice, we find Chiara. In fact, she ignored this kind of advice so much, that she ended up becoming a business owner and a multi-millionaire (Sanderson, 2019) who is adored by almost 24 million fans around the globe (Ferragni, 2021). She shattered the glass ceiling and let women all over the world know that when people don’t give them a seat at the table, they should feel 100% entitled to build their own.


Becoming a multiple 7-figure business owner

Chiara Ferragni officially started her career in business when she launched her blog, The Blonde Salad, back in the year 2009. Although she had planned to become a lawyer, she eventually dropped out of her Law degree at Bocconi University in Milan as a consequence of the blog’s ever-growing success (Cochrane, 2016). By following her passions which included fashion, international travel & photography, she managed to build a multi-million euro empire based in the digital world (Sanderson, 2019). Ferragni now owns three interconnected global businesses:

  • A highly profitable lifestyle blog, which as mentioned, is called The Blonde Salad (2021).
  • A clothing and accessories company called Chiara Ferragni Collection (Chiara Ferragni Brand, 2021).
  • A strong personal brand on Social Media (Ferragni, 2021) which she uses for different kinds of business projects and to advertise other companies’ products, as well as her own.

I have to admit that what she created is in no way original. Fashion blogs already existed before she entered the spotlight, clothing and accessory companies that operated internationally had been around since before she was born, and influencers that advertise other companies’ products are all over the place nowadays. So what is the real secret to her ever-growing success?

Some people might want to belittle her by attributing it to her looks, or saying she was in a position of privilege. But if that were true, then every good looking person with a bit of privilege would have 24 million people supporting them – and we all know that’s not the case. After observing her business behaviour on social media for a while, I’m here to tell you the main and real reason why she became successful: Chiara Ferragni is a human-centric leader, the kind every business leader will have to become if they want to thrive in a globalised future of work.


What is a human-centric leader?

In simple words, a human-centric leader is a leader that puts people first. With their positive influence, motivational skills and ability to bring people together, they encourage growth, enhance the ability of organisations to innovate and they respond actively to the challenges business brings. Just like any other kind of leadership style, a human-centric one can be learned and polished through time and effort (Wong, 2019). According to Chaieb (2020), there are different mechanisms that leaders can take advantage of to become more human-centric, some of which include the following:

A) Practicing self-reflection & developing self-respect: It’s important to become more self-reflective and display self-respect, meaning leaders who wish to acquire this style must know who they really are and accept themselves, regardless of their fears and doubts.

B) Promoting other people’s full potential: Focusing on individuals and their full potential is key, as leaders that wish to acquire this style should allow others to show up as their full selves as much as possible.

C) Building trust: Human-centric leaders go to far lengths to build trust with the people that surround them, allowing them to influence their lives and connect with them successfully.

D) Communicating in a crystal-clear manner: A key element to developing a human-centric leadership style is communication, which needs to be carried out in a transparent and honest way with others to foster a sense of belonging.


What is human centricity in organisations?

According to Ghassemi (2018), a human-centered organisation is one that builds products & services based on the perspective of those involved in the creation and all other affected human beings, placing them at the center through an empathetic approach. When it comes to leadership teams, Accenture (2020) states that those in power at human-centric organisations need to understand the wants and needs of all individuals involved. Ghassemi (2018) clarifies that these kinds of organisations have three main actors:

  1. The leadership teams who make decisions.
  2. The employees that sit in the frontline of every organizations’ interactions with customers.
  3. The customers that organizations serve, who use the offered products and/or services.

According to Williams-Treloar (2020), marketing is a very particular business function that can benefit greatly from this approach, which consists, once again, of putting human empathy and impact at the heart of the business and marketing strategy. Human-centric marketing is compromised of four stages which include (1) walking in customers’ shoes, (2) listening with empathy, (3) making a human impact in a noisy digital world and (4) growing together with customers, employees and stakeholders.


How Chiara Ferragni Demonstrates Human-Centric Leadership

There is no doubt that this businesswoman leads and markets with a human-centric approach. Her ability to simply be human and impact people’s lives because of it has been present since the day she launched her first business and is present in everything she does, whether it’s related to work or her personal life, as she shows on social media (Ferragni, 2021). Let’s take a look at how she demonstrates leadership, which by definition, is the sole ability to inspire others (Ingraham & Niehaus, 1975).

She genuinely supports diversity & inclusion

From the very beginning, Ferragni had set an ambitious blogging goal: to be as international as possible. According to Zanetti (2021), the fact that she chose not only to blog in Italian, but also in English, helped her gain visibility and opened up the doors to the world. Something as simple as that is a sign of her interest in cultural diversity, which is characterised by being curious and open to people that are different than ourselves. Culture is just one of many kinds of diversity, but it is powerful in the sense that being open to people from other countries also means being open towards people of different races, religions, traditions, ways of living, and so on. This global vision matches her never-ending support towards minorities and the D&I movements that take place around the world.

On a more specific note, she also makes sure to include D&I initiatives in her business strategy. It’s interesting to note that digital businesses like hers can actually take action to be more inclusive, and that she has not missed the chance to make others feel more comfortable. An example of this can be seen straight on The Blonde Salad’s website (2021), where an accessibility function has been installed for users with different kinds of disabilities. This function prevents website elements from blinking and flashing, reads text aloud, has magnifiers to help with vision problems and even allows users to change the website’s colors to make it more welcoming to people with disabilities that are triggered by using technology.

She uses her powerful voice to drive positive change

If there’s one thing that truly makes Ferragni great as a leader, it is definitely her intense motivation to use her voice to improve people’s lives. Those who follow her have heard her speak up about hundreds of different causes that she feels deeply concerned about throughout the past couple of years. Some of those causes include the following:

  • Ending violence against women.
  • Facilitating access to life-saving medical treatments.
  • Stopping racist & LGBTQ+ discriminatory behaviour.
  • Mental health awareness.
  • Giving people with disabilities more visibility.
  • Preventing bullying, cyber bullying & digital abuse.
    And so many more…
Figure 2. Photographs of Chiara Ferragni & her campaign against cyberbullying. 
Taken from Chiara Ferragni Instagram by Chiara Ferragni, 2019.

In order to take concrete action and support different causes, she has launched numerous fundraising campaigns using her personal brand and blog to spread the word, as we can observe in the one against cyber bullying displayed above (Ferragni, 2019).

One of her most impressive campaigns was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, when she and her husband personally donated €100,000 and also managed to raise €4,493,500 on GoFundMe to build new intensive care units in Italy when the medical system was collapsing (Ferragni & Lucia, 2020). The Italian government later granted them an “Ambrogino d’Oro” award, which is given out annually to recognise people and associations that stand out for their commitment and work for the common good. Salibian (2020) explains that in that precise moment, Ferragni officially crossed the line from being a fashion influencer to being a social one.

Figure 3. Photographs of Chiara Ferragni & Federico Lucia receiving their Ambrogino d’Oro award in Milan. 
Taken from Chiara Ferragni Instagram by Chiara Ferragni, 2020.

Although many might say these are just marketing stunts, her consistency is proof that she does this because she truly cares about making a difference. She has always been involved, whether the causes she supported were trending or not.

She has a never-ending amount of empathy for others

While transparently showing her followers her daily personal and work life on social media, Ferragni knows how to make her fans walk around in her shoes and get a glimpse of who she really is, consequently creating an emotional connection with them (Ferragni, 2021). Even more interesting than that is the fact that she also knows how to walk around in her follower’s shoes, showing true signs of empathy. This links back to her constant support towards people of diverse backgrounds, lifestyles and abilities, mentioned in the two points above.

In the business world, many would probably say that being empathetic is a sign of weakness, but the success of her approach to business has shown the exact opposite. While many business leaders out there elevate themselves by pushing others down, showing low levels of emotional intelligence and an inability to build trust, Chiara Ferragni elevates herself by lifting others up and connecting with her global audience like no other business person out there. She has proved that being empathetic is a strength and an important superpower of all great leaders.

She’s honest about her personal struggles

If there’s something human-centricity does not align with, it’s definitely the need some people have to pretend like they are perfect, and their need for everyone around them to pretend like they are perfect too. Human-centric leaders allow others to be their true selves. But before making that possible for others, they learn how to be their full vulnerable and imperfect selves too – something that Ferragni does very well.

Although her life seems perfect on the outside, she never hides her past and present struggles, which shows that she is humble despite the luxurious lifestyle she leads. There’s almost nothing that her almost 24 million followers don’t know about her: how she struggled to get into the industry she works in, her moments of ill physical & mental health, the death of family members, her dog’s Cancer diagnosis, and even the way watching The Lion King makes her burst into tears…she transparently shows it all and speaks openly about it on Social Media (Ferragni, 2021). She really is just a human being like the rest of us, and she doesn’t seem to feel the need to hide her humanness to please others.

She’s a role model for women in the world of work

On top of all of the things that were already mentioned, she is also a feminist and true supporter of Gender Equality. In her daily life, she makes sure to break down both the stigma and stereotypes that greatly affect women at work all over the world. In her interview with Sanderson (2019) for The Financial Times, she expressed that women should be able to work and be mothers at the same time just like her, and that no one should ever be forced to make a choice between the two. Recently, she gave birth to her second child and posted a photo of herself with a breast pump on the set of a work project in an attempt to normalise something that is completely natural, but that women are shamed for in workplaces (Ferragni, 2021). She clarified that she purposely speaks about these kinds of issues to send a positive message to all the people that follow her (Sanderson, 2019).

Last but not least, I cannot forget to mention the amazing example she sets for young women that are thinking of starting a business, or that are already running their own. In a world where women are discouraged from ever succeeding in entrepreneurship and get told by entrepreneurship media outlets that young people’s million dollar ideas are absolutely worthless (Zwilling, 2012), Chiara is the kind of person that has proved that that is absolutely not true. She is also the kind of person that makes you think: “she can do it, then I can do it too“.


To conclude…

It’s pretty safe to say that people don’t buy from Chiara Ferragni because they need what she sells. They buy from her because they know that what they spend on her work comes back into the world in the form of a good deed. Because people love supporting people that support them. Because she never fails to lend a helping hand when others are in need. Because they simply like who and what she is: a human-centric leader. And because of that, I believe she is 100% deserving of every single one of her victories.

Now that you know all about Chiara Ferragni’s success, I can only hope you have learned that a woman’s intelligence, ability to do a job, run a business, or make a difference in the world cannot be determined by the pink glitter heels she chooses to put on her feet. The future of work, without a doubt, needs more women like her in leadership.


Written by Rossina Gitto

<meta charset="utf-8">About the Author
About the Author

Rossina Gitto is a Licensed Psychologist & holds a Masters Degree in International Human Resources Management from the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas. She is the Founder of The Humans of HR.


*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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The Humans of HR is a Digital Social Enterprise that is on a mission to humanize the world of work. We aspire to be recognized as a high quality International HR & Business media outlet for a diverse body of professionals from all over the world. Our Magazine currently reaches readers in over 80 counties.

We believe everyone is entitled to have access to professional content that is backed up by relevant sources, as well as the work of the global scientific community, no matter where they come from. That is the reason why we started writing, and also why we will continue to do so. In order to keep growing and keep our content open to our global audience, we would like for you to consider supporting our work.

Your contribution is highly appreciated.

The Humans of HR is a Digital Social Enterprise that is on a mission to humanize the world of work. We aspire to be recognized as a high quality International HR & Business media outlet for a diverse body of professionals from all over the world. Our Magazine currently reaches readers in over 80 counties.

We believe everyone is entitled to have access to professional content that is backed up by relevant sources, as well as the work of the global scientific community, no matter where they come from. That is the reason why we started writing, and also why we will continue to do so. In order to keep growing and keep our content open to our global audience, we would like for you to consider supporting our work.

Your contribution is highly appreciated.

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References


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Chaieb , N. (2020, December 31). How to become a human centric leader [RealBusiness]. https://realbusiness.co.uk/human-centric-leader/

Chiara Ferragni Brand. (2021). Chiara Ferragni Collection. https://www.chiaraferragnicollection.com/

Ferragni, C. (2019). Chiara Ferragni’s campaign against cyberbullying. [Photographs]. Retrieved June 10, 2021, from https://www.instagram.com/p/BxF2RbSBOFa/

Ferragni, C. (2020). Chiara Ferragni & Federico Lucia receiving their Ambrogino d’Oro award in Milan. [Photographs]. Retrieved June 10, 2021, from https://www.instagram.com/p/CIfx4I4BLoe/?hl=en

Ferragni, C., & Lucia, F. (2020). Coronavirus, rafforziamo la terapia intensiva, organized by The Ferragnez [Fundraising]. Gofundme.com. https://www.gofundme.com/f/coronavirus-terapia-intensiva

Ferragni, C. (2021). Chiara Ferragni Instagram [Social Media]. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/chiaraferragni/

Ghassemi, B. (2018, December 17). What is a human-centered organization. Medium; Tangerine Lab. https://medium.com/@TangerineLab/what-is-a-human-centered-organization-e237c526c47b

Ingraham, C. H., & Niehaus, R. (1975). Leadership. Ohio State University. Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics. https://doi.org/10.1080/00098655.1975.9956823

Salibian, S., & Salibian, S. (2020, November 17). Chiara ferragni, fedez presented with the ambrogino d’oro award. WWD. https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/chiara-ferragni-fedez-ambrogino-doro-award-1234658678/

Sanderson, R. (2019, February 8). Chiara Ferragni—The Italian influencer who built a global brand. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/9adce87c-2879-11e9-a5ab-ff8ef2b976c7

The Blonde Salad. (2019). All the glitter shoes you’ll need in the next weeks [Photograph]. Retrieved April 28, 2021, from https://theblondesalad.com/en/fashion/all-the-glitter-shoes-youll-need-in-the-next-weeks/

The Blonde Salad. (2021). The Blonde Salad. https://theblondesalad.com/en/

UN Women (2021, March 1). Claiming women’s space in leadership. Medium. https://un-women.medium.com/claiming-womens-space-in-leadership-6acc13946e2

Williams-Treloar, C. (2020). Human- Centered Marketing: How to make a human impact in a digital world . Humanisation. https://www.humanisation.com/complete-guide-to-human-centered-marketing

Wong, K. (2019, January 9). 5 habits of human-centric leaders. JEB Group. https://jebgroup.com/news/2018/1/12/5-habits-of-human-centric-leaders

Zanetti, A. (2021, February 17). The importance of being Chiara Ferragni [Italics Magazine]. The Importance of Being Chiara Ferragni. https://italicsmag.com/2021/02/17/the-importance-of-being-chiara-ferragni/

Zwilling, M. (2012, September 14). 10 top reasons why first-time entrepreneurs fail. Entrepreneur. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/224397

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