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Women in a post-feminist era. Responsible power

Aspenia Talks
Rome, 23/01/2017, Aspenia
Press clippings
Audio-video clips

Proceedings at this panel debate kicked off with the observation that a redistribution of roles and power between women and men is underway – a process which the election of Hillary Clinton as president of the United States could have served to cement. The proclamation of Donald Trump’s victory – which for many came as unexpected – has instead upset the apple cart.

In Italy, it was suggested that the statistics speak for themselves: women form the majority of those graduating from university with full marks and honors, while girls likewise form the bulk of those achieving top grades in the country’s upper secondary schools. Yet the labor market is not rewarding them as it should. Lower salaries, underrepresentation in boardrooms, and prejudices are issues that are still alive and well. In short, the “glass ceiling” may have a few cracks, but it is a long way from shattering. It was nevertheless emphasized that there are possible steps that can be taken in several arenas, ranging from business management to taxation, and from the law to the media.

Figures were presented on female participation in employment, revealing that, in Italy today, employed women account for 14% less of the workforce than in other European countries, despite the fact that a higher female employment rate would result in a significant boost to GDP growth.

It was stressed that in order for women to have more say, they must have more sway. In this regard, Italy’s so-called “pink quotas” law (requiring Italian listed and state-owned companies to ensure that one-third of their board members are women) was held up as a success. In 2007, women accounted for 5% of board members of listed companies, whereas today they make up 27%, demonstrating  that where moral suasion does not work, and an unbalanced situation arises, the introduction of temporary distortions can yield significant benefits.

It was urged that the expansion of women’s rights goes hand in hand with economic growth, and, in turn, makes companies even more dynamic and competitive. It is no coincidence that when the economic crisis began in the early 2000s, the advancement of women also experienced a slowdown in terms of progress on the economic and workplace rights front. Much more so than men, women face the challenge of reconciling family and work, which it was felt another “temporary distortion” – namely, gender-based taxation – could help to address. Given that, according to Italy’s national statistics bureau (ISTAT), two-thirds of the burden of managing the household and family is borne by women, a more favorable tax treatment would give them greater bargaining – as well as economic – power.

The view was expressed that constructive measures could also be taken in the area of education, by breaking down the prejudices that keep women away from scientific studies and pointing younger generations in the direction of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees, which guarantee a 33% higher salary than other course options. Further possible solutions could draw on best practices in business management and recruitment, such as ensuring that shortlists are made up 50% of men and 50% of women. It was hence seen as essential to work towards inclusion at all company levels, develop new shared leadership approaches, and instill a new culture of responsibility reposed not only in the managing director or other top executives, but also at middle management levels.

In concluding, it was taken as read that no change is possible without a shift in values. Anthropological and cultural progress on this front will inevitably depend on the narrative of women conveyed by the country’s mass media and cultural industry. Yet while some accordingly saw it as crucial for TV drama, film, and literature to fulfill a pedagogical role, others were of the view that the family – characterized by a mature relationship between equals and an equitable division of social, work, and economic power roles – represents the only effective vehicle for shaping the views and values of future generations.