Article 3

2020-01-22 Simona Cuomo

Gender Equality in the Professional World

Despite the lively public and academic debate on the question of gender equality in society and the labor market, it is always important to ask if this widespread "sensitivity" is actually translating into concrete results. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF),[1] Italy saw the largest improvement from 2017 to 2018, going from 82nd to 70th, but in 2019 it dropped down to 76th out of a total of 153 countries. While the positive result for 2018 was due to growth in the area of "Political Empowerment" of women, which maps female participation in the management of public affairs, and stability in the areas of "Education" and "Health and Survival," where gender parity has practically been reached, in 2019 we were penalized in the category of Economic Participation and Opportunity (where Italy unfortunately confirmed its position as 118th in the rankings).

According to the most recent data from the ISTAT statistics institute, in Italy the gap between the employment rate among women and men is 18.9%. Only Malta does worse in Europe. The situation is worse if women have children. In our country, 11.1% of mothers with at least one child have never worked; a figure almost three times higher than the EU average of 3.7%.[2] Once women overcome the entry barriers, widespread "segregation" persists in the labor market, with the presence of true professional "silos" that separate men and women, offering different professional opportunities, career perspectives, and salaries for the latter compared to the former. While this situation outlined by the WEF represents an average picture of the Italian labor market, a recent study produced by Mopi[3] indicates an even more critical situation in the world of professions (architects, lawyers, accountants, engineers, notaries). 653 professionals responded to the survey, most of whom were women (81%); this is an evident sign that the gender gap, being perceived almost only by women themselves, has still not obtained full dignity. Moreover, the majority of the respondents (50%) belong to the Bar Association, a professional area that perhaps is currently suffering from a more critical situation than others; they seem to show greater attention to the question of gender equality. The data show environments in which women must deal above all with the question of the dual role,[4] the balance between private life and professional activity. This is the primary reason that female professionals suffer from forms of discrimination as regards the opportunity to manage the most important business clients, and thus access opportunities for career development[5] and higher earnings. An interesting aspect of the survey shows that, according to the respondents, clients still believe that male professionals are more reliable. This comes in addition to the existence of strongly-rooted stereotypes on the role of women in society, such that family care remains principally their responsibility, making it hard to accept "a woman surgeon or engineer." Gender identity, even before the possibility of measuring skills and abilities, weighs heavily on professional reputation. This cultural image, often fed by the absence of policies and organizational practices oriented towards inclusion and the management of the work-life balance, makings professional environments particularly hostile to the question of gender parity, and thus very "tiring" for professional women, who often decide to give up their career and professional development after the birth of their first child.

[2] "Mercato del lavoro e capitale umano," ISTAT - Annual Report 2019

[3] Association for the promotion of marketing in professions sponsored by the City of Milan and the Associations of Accountants, Architects, Engineers and Doctors,

[4] In 28 percent of cases the woman is the one who primarily manages the home. That percentage rises to over 50 percent with the birth of the first child. On the other hand, no professional men stop working upon birth of the first child, or decide to work part-time. 80 percent of men, versus 47

percent of women, state that they continue to work as before, 10 percent of women work part-time, and 2 percent of women leave work after their first child. A high percentage of professional women believe they have suffered discrimination in their work, and the percentage rises from 45 percent of women without children to 60 percent of those with children; while only 4 percent of men feel they have been subject to discrimination in the workplace.

[5] 61 percent of the respondents stated that where they work 70 percent of management is male. In 66 percent of the cases, the top positions for clients are held by men.