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Inspiring Best Practice 28 August Aug 2017 1100 28 August 2017

“More women at work? It means more wealth for the country.” And we can show you how.

In Italy, the situation has improved mainly in larger companies. Small and medium-sized companies are a bit slower. An interview with the President of Valore D, Sandra Mori

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Equality between men and women still seems far away in Italy, at least in one sector: the world of work. The numbers do not lie: female employment in our country is standing still at 47% (against 65% of male employment and 80% of women employed in Sweden, for example), 24% of new mothers are fired after the birth of their first child and only 3% of the general managers of large companies are women. Therefore, the idea of a fully employed female population is still a target to be reached and the changes, which are present, happen slowly compared to the urgency that is required to start up the economy again. A goal that could be easy to achieve, still, if we favoured the expression of female talent: It would only take 10 percentage points more of female employment to shake up the GDP.

To change the situation, or at least speed up the change process currently under way, the association Valore D was created. This association of companies promotes diversity, talent and female leadership for the growth of the companies and the country. Founded in 2009 by a small group of companies who valued these points, they now count over 150 associates, united in the effort to dialogue with the institutions and to train personnel, mainly executives, of companies in Italy in order to make sure they fill a gap that has to reason to exist. Mainly because it was caused primarily by cultural motivations, as stated by the president of Valore D, Sandra Mori, General Counsel-Europe Group of Coca-Cola: “In our country, like the rest of the Mediterranean basin, women traditionally have the role of caring for the family, from children to elderly parents,” she explained. “This is our first obstacle for women trying to enter the world of work: that it has always been organised by men, based on their timing. It’s vicious circle: since women have never entered the world of work, the world of work is not set up with women's schedules. In fact, work schedules penalise women.”

In Italy, this situation is improving, up to now, thanks to the initiatives from large companies, multinational corporations and not, while the gender gap has trouble disappearing in small and medium-sized companies in our production system. Sandra Mori gives us examples of companies that are trying: “I can think o several: Eni, Trenitalia, Snam, Luxottica… all companies that understand how promoting real equality and a balanced workplace is not just looking good, it brings real economic benefits, in terms of profits.

Diversity is wealth: it improves the atmosphere in the company, allows access to new market segments and increases productivity.”

In the companies mentioned above and in other places, there are many initiatives and benefits that allow women employees to reconcile work and family life, but most of all, they allow employees to fully express their talents and climb the career ladder up to the top: these programs include easy re-entry after maternity leave, corporate day care, and concierge services or rather, a figure paid by the company that handles commissions for the employee. “In addition to direct support and welfare initiatives, there are also direct training opportunities aimed at changing the culture: I think that for example, training for male managers to eliminate the so-called “unconscious bias”, stereotypes and prejudices to which we are all subjected unconsciously is a fundamental step for creating authentic equality.”

As far as the future is concerned, Sandra Mori is an optimist, and the data backs her up: in the 1960s, female employment was 30 points lower than it is today. Therefore, the trend is very consolidated and it is bringing it towards an increase in women at work. We can do a lot to prevent another 50 years from passing before we reach the 70% threshold. Mori thinks, however, that the ball must go to the institutions’ court. “It is necessary to introduce distortion measures into our country that accelerate equality,” she said, “provisions that bring us to a sort of beneficial shock. I think of a form of taxation that favours female work and free day care: measures that undoubtedly would have a strong impact on the country’s budget and that, for this reason, would meet with much resistance. Let’s remember, however, that the advantages in the medium-long term would pay back the efforts. Let’s focus on only one piece of information: if female employment in Italy were at 60%, we would have a point more in the GDP. In my opinion, it would be worth it.”

There is a need to introduce distortive market measures in the country that will accelerate equality

Male managers must be trained to eliminate the “unconscious bias”, stereotypes and prejudices that we are all subjected to unconsciously.