Isabel Gil, the first woman President of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, sees education and religion as twin forces driving ethical leadership. Brunswick’s Alexandra Abreu Loureiro reports.
Isabel Capeloa Gil has a bird’s eye view on the roles of both women in leadership and values in the business community. As the first woman to be named President of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), Dr. Gil shines a light on the work of women throughout the organization, a global group of self-defined institutions that share the Catholic faith as a cornerstone.
She is also the second woman to ever serve as Rector of Portugal’s Catolica University, home to one of the top business schools in Europe, ranked No. 1 in Portugal by the Financial Times. Dr. Gil is a full Professor of Culture Studies at Catolica and sits on the boards of the European Council of Foreign Relations, Pope Francis’ Committee for Education in Rome and the Danish Institute of Research. Raised in Macao, China, she is a passionate advocate of international education and humanistic values and is the author of over 140 publications in six languages.
She spoke to us about multiculturalism, the roles of women and religion in leadership, and the need for ethics in the business world.
How does it feel to be the first woman leader at the helm of the IFCU?
It’s an impressive step for the organization. Since the Federation was founded in 1924, women involved in governing were very scarce. Yet the first time a woman stood up as candidate for the presidency, she was elected with 65 percent of the vote—remarkable in a society as geographically, culturally and historically diverse as catholic universities. There are 1,100 Catholic universities around the world, IFCU membership stands at 250 across all regions. The concept of the Catholic University does not exist per se, in part because Catholic universities are founded by dioceses, lay Catholics or are completely independent. Also, the question of autonomy is central to the work of universities and the federation itself.
A woman president makes a difference, first and foremost in the attention to female leadership and the sponsoring of the support for other women leaders. I hire and mentor other young women leaders in academic institutions and also in the corporate world, to provide visibility to the great work other women leaders do.
Are there more opportunities for women in Catholic universities than in the church at large?
Yes, certainly. The church is an all-male club. I don’t think it will remain as such. This Pontiff is very aware of the role of women, their dignity, and acknowledging the role that women can and should play.