Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls worldwide are among the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. “Gender equality is not merely a fundamental human right, but also a necessary basis for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world”: this is the important political and ideological premise of gender equality according to the UN.
The question becomes how to overcome a gap so deeply rooted in the system and the rules that underpin it, especially in the aftermath of a pandemic? A scenario summarised by the Global Gender Gap Report estimates that a gender balance will be struck in 135.6 years, which indeed suggests a titanic task. However, it is precisely these estimates and data, which are still not extremely positive, that can help to change the pace and show us where action is most urgently needed.
For instance, even today, despite much progress, women continue to be under-represented in the world of work and institutions. The UN estimates that their representation in national parliaments is only 23.7%. The situation in the workplace is very similar: the Rapporto Cerved-Fondazione Marisa Bellisario gave a snapshot of the presence of women in top positions in Italy in 2020: “Women CEOs account for only 6.3% of the total. In universities, the proportion of women is decreasing at every career step: 47% of permanent researchers, 38% of associate professors and only 23% of full professors“. While women constitute 56% of graduates, they only fill 28% of managerial and directorship positions.
And while 72% of those returning to work were men by the end of the first lockdown, 98% of the jobs held by women had already evaporated, not only in response to the market downturn, but also due to increased care workloads. Oxfam estimates that women worldwide have sustained an income loss of approximately USD 800 billion. A very high price for society as a whole.
And let’s not forget the wage gap: the Italian private sector has an average gender pay gap of 21%, one of the widest in Europe, a situation that the Law on equal pay and opportunities in the workplace, recently approved unanimously by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, is poised to remedy. However, a legislative intervention alone is not enough, as Chiara Gribaudo, deputy of the Democratic Party and first signatory of the law, said: what is needed is “a real cultural revolution“, for which we need a commitment from everyone.
This is the context in which Wow – Women on Wednesday, PHYD’s new format to talk about women’s empowerment, was created to make a real contribution to the fight against gender discrimination. Each of the seven events focuses on a specific aspect, such as competitiveness, personal branding and self-entrepreneurship, where numerous professionals from very different backgrounds come together to discuss and debate. The goal is to tackle and overcome the gender gap by sharing and collecting best practices and tangible suggestions. The inaugural event was attended by Gaia Romani, Councillor for Civic Services, Participation and Transparency, Decentralisation Policies of the Municipality of Milan, Monica Magri, HR & Organisation Director at The Adecco Group, Martina Rogato, consultant and G20 activist for women’s rights, and Ilaria Cinelli, Space Healthcare and Business Developer at AIKO. This and future meetings will be moderated by journalist Elisa Serafini.
Empowerment, diversity awareness
Women’s empowerment is an extremely complex issue and therefore risks becoming subject to trivialisation and generalisation. For this reason, Monica Magri begins by trying to provide a methodological basis and a precise definition, which will enable us to grasp the aspects and actions necessary for its implementation. “Empowerment is a progressive process, because it consists of several phases, and it is transformative, because the aim is to bring about profound transformations, concrete and also measurable changes capable of impacting on the individual and the community“.
If we want to achieve visible and measurable results, the first step should entail recognising the context in which we intend to act, to identify the starting points onto which we can base our medium- and long-term objectives. And the context is certainly not a rosy one, as Gaia Romani tells us: “While there are more of us in politics, business and the world of work, there are still too few of us in positions of leadership and real power. In Italy, only 6% of mayors are women. Worldwide, out of 200 countries, only 20 are led by women“. If leadership is the key, empowerment is the means to achieve this key. According to the councillor, one must be proudly aware of one’s uniqueness: diversity should be affirmed, not hidden.
Best practices and soft skills
How can women become empowered and make meaningful choices and actions to overcome such an evident imbalance within society, organisations and the world of work? Martina Rogato believes that mentoring is an extraordinary empowerment tool. “Not only structured, but also informal with people who have 10 or 15 years of experience and a desire to offer disinterested advice. There are also many associations in Italy that provide mentoring services on a pro bono basis. And this is an example of how women can network and support each other”. Ilaria Cinelli also cites the importance of mentoring as an empowerment tool: “I chose to be a mentor within the United Nations Space4Women project, which aims to promote gender equality in the space sector. I do it, trying to understand the person in front of me, to bring out the skills, the desires, the goals. I try to empower her and make her understand that she can be independent. Women do not have to depend on someone to do something. I have opened up so many opportunities internationally, always with the same method: I simply wanted to”.
As valuable as it is, the support of other women is not enough: one must first and foremost cultivate one’s own personal skills and capabilities. It is essential to work on soft skills such as public speaking, for example, or negotiation, and to start doing so from university. Rogato believes that it would be good practice to accompany traditional technical training with soft skills courses, which are essential for surviving the university world first, and then the world of work.
The importance of networking
Simone de Beauvoir wrote that one cannot transform one’s life without transforming oneself. It often happens, as Monica Magri also points out, that women are doubly victims of gender stereotypes, i.e. they are subjected to the unwritten rules of a culture that is still profoundly patriarchal, which all too often condemns them to a marginal role, both at work and in their private lives. Therefore, cooperation between women is necessary, especially to reach leadership positions, but even more important, according to Cinelli, is cooperation between men and women. In other words, no one can feel excluded from the commitment to equality and the achievement of equal rights and dignity. It is a battle in the name of inclusion and otherness that cannot only concern one half of the sky.
Whether it concerns the design of a city, a spacesuit, a corporate position or even care work, we all lose out if women are left behind.
To listen to the webinar and to keep up to date with the next WoW – Women on Wednesday events, simply sign up at PHYD.