Italy lags at least 30 years behind the US and rest-of-industrialized-world-except-maybe-Greece in its views about women in the workforce. That’s easily verified by what you see (on Italian TV), what you read (in print media) and what you hear (in conferences here invariably dominated by men).
What is harder to comprehend is WHY this is so. That Italian women are as well-educated as their male counterparts is clear from the data. That they are stylish and smart-looking is obvious just by observation in any Italian city, not to mention the stats about what they spend on apparel. That Italian women managers are reluctant to assert themselves comes across in a number of studies, and this is one among a host of reasons why Italian women rank so pathetically in surveys of female participation in managerial ranks and positions of political power.
Some female thought leaders exhort their colleagues to be bold and assertive and “toot your own horn.” Ironically, tooting your own horn in classic alpha male fashion is considered passé by other women role models, who see it as an outdated model for managerial success.
So what is the solution for Italy’s educated, elegant, but inadequately assertive professional women? What women need to do to improve their long-term situation in Italy is focus on four interconnecting areas:
· Improve their economic parity
· Strengthen their political empowerment
· Raise their educational level
· Improve health care for women and families.
This is like saying, “Change the overall status of women here.” Ho-hum. Not very useful. But the four-pillar approach provides a framework for the development of other, more specific policies. The educational level for Italian women IS increasing, to the point where there are more female students than male, getting better grades, more likely than ever before to go on for advanced degrees. Health care in Italy is ranked the second-best in the world by the WHO (France is first), and “family” is a sacred word here, thanks to the Catholic Church, so there isn’t a lot of political opposition to the idea of improving health care (unlike the US, where it is fought tooth and nail by the alt.right).
Where Italian women rank dismally are in economic parity and political power. Ho-hum revisited. This is true almost everywhere in the world except for Scandinavia; the problem for Italy is that the economic disparity (lack of earning power) is greater and the political power weaker than in the other G-8 or G-20 countries. One possible way to break through this logjam is to encourage more women to start their own businesses. If the men won’t hire you, for a plethora of cultural reasons, hire yourself. Women-owned businesses in the US hire more employees than all the Fortune 500 companies put together. The more women are visible as entrepreneurs, the more other women can aspire to be like them. The more women are successful in business, the more power they wield, and the more political clout they acquire.
Sounds like a game plan that would work in many countries. Can Italy take it to the next step? Has the US done so? Ho-ho. Hmmm.