The most recent Competitiveness Report on 193 countries between 2019 and 2020 concluded that Italy had quickly achieved excellent results in terms of competitiveness, making progress in many areas, including the development of new infrastructures and greater freedom of the press, moving from 44th to 30th place. When it comes to analysing the gender issue, however, our country does not seem to be progressing at the same speed.
We are second to last in Europe in terms of the number of women in the workforce, and dead last in the 25–34 age group. One figure is particularly dramatic: one in five women give up work after having a child. The labour participation rate gap is 19 points compared with men, a gap that has only widened with the pandemic. In Italy, women are still not guaranteed access to employment, career opportunities or leadership positions (only 3% of companies are led by a woman).
And yet, the data are clear: not only are companies adopting mixed governance more competitive, but more generally, more women in employment is an advantage for society as a whole, a decisive boost to economic recovery. The most recent estimates suggest a potential of between €50 billion and €150 billion in terms of GDP. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) believes that “placing women in strategic positions would increase the global economy by 35%“.
While the pandemic has wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs held by women, it has also made urgent the discussion on the gender gap and the need to catch up on an unacceptable delay in its resolution. What measures to take and where to intervene in order to increase the presence of women in the world of work and thus favour the change towards a more open and inclusive culture, able to welcome everyone?
In “Competitiveness in the future of work“, the title of this second round of WOW – Women on Wednesday, PHYD puts these questions directly to women, sharing the visions on the future of work of Cathy La Torre, lawyer and CEO of WildSide-Human First, Marianna Poletti, professor at the Sole24Ore Business School and Bicocca in Milan, and founder of Just Knock, and Virginia Stagni, Head of Business Development at the Financial Times. This meeting will be moderated by journalist Elisa Serafini.
Attitudes for the future
Preparing for the future, for sudden leaps forward but also setbacks and crises, is an imperative of the present. The best way to face tomorrow is to equip oneself with the right skills, what Marianna Poletti calls attitudes:
The best companies during the crisis were the ones whose employees were able to adapt to change, propose different solutions, and possessed problem-solving skills. In the future of work, personal attitudes, including resourcefulness, motivation, creativity, empathy and flexibility, will be the key to employability.
However, how can these attitudes be brought out, for example in a job interview? According to Poletti, who became an entrepreneur at only 25 years of age, you have to go beyond the curriculum, there are skills that you learn with time and practice and there are innate characteristics that, of necessity, have no place in a sterile portfolio. It is necessary to have a new mindset, to perceive oneself not so much as an individual called upon to perform a task, but rather as a bearer of added value. The unique contribution that each of us chooses to make to a company says a lot about our attitudes, our identity.
Nonetheless, “there are still many realities in Italy, especially medium and small enterprises, which are unable to give space and voice to uniqueness”. These are the words of Cathy La Torre, who provides training in Diversity Management and Diversity & Inclusion for many companies:
Can you grasp and enhance someone’s aptitudes if you disregard their identity? The answer is clearly no: an individual entering a work context in which he/she cannot be fully him/herself, is also not given the opportunity to demonstrate his/her abilities to the best of his/her ability.
It is unthinkable that a company or organisation, whatever its market segment, can increase its competitiveness without its people having the opportunity and the conditions to fully express their uniqueness.
The importance of viewpoint
During a focus group for women, when they were asked to describe the Financial Times in a picture, they replied: “a white man with his back to them”, thus explaining why they were not interested in reading it. Virginia Stagni recounts the moment when the famous British newspaper, 135 years in the making, decided to innovate its business model to reach new audiences, starting from within, from its own human capital:
How can you reach new targets if the people in your company do not represent the categories you want to talk to? We need to have different visions and sensitivities, because they allow us to look with different eyes at what we have always done in a certain way.
Taking a fresh point of view is the only way to truly understand and value uniqueness in the workplace, as when Cathy La Torre’s fledgling law firm received an application from a blind practitioner. Embracing that uniqueness, rather than rejecting it because we were unprepared for it”, says the lawyer, “enabled the firm to equip itself with new tools, not just technological ones, and to enhance the working reality and with it the people who gave it life”.
Diversity is a matter of fact. Inclusiveness is an act
In a labour market rendered increasingly dynamic and fluid by technology and digital technology, the revolution begins by freeing oneself from all stereotypes and clichés. In this regard, Poletti says: “We need to wipe the slate clean and eliminate the idea of pushing one category over another. Instead, we must all be equal on the starting blocks“.
Because diversity is nothing more than the uniqueness of each individual in the company, it is not just a matter of gender or ethnicity. It is a fact, it exists simply because humanity exists. Inclusion, on the other hand, is a deliberate and conscious action, and for Stagni, “it is up to the company and all the acts that an individual employee can go about enhancing and implementing even in small gestures, including the perspective of others”.
“Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common“, said Winston Churchill, and companies should invest in it to innovate and be truly competitive. There is no more valuable and effective strategic resource than uniqueness.
You can watch the webinar and learn more about Diversity&Inclusion by registering at the PHYD website.