April 15, 2014 — This month we’re featuring a series of posts on wage discrimination and other issues facing working women to highlight the ongoing gender pay gap. Today an Italy-based journalist who covers women and the economy explains why Italy needs more women in its workforce.
In 1999, Kathy Matsui, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, coined the term womenomics to name her new theory. Her argument was very simple: as more women enter the labor market, countries’ economies will grow, and economic growth will yield population growth. My native Italy is still very far from experiencing the benefits promised by this theory, mostly because so many women still give up work to care for their families.
In other countries in Europe—particularly in the Nordic countries—the situation is completely different. These countries have welfare systems that protect women, not only allowing them to return to their previous jobs when they return to work after giving birth, but also equipping them with tools to enter the workforce. Helping women become productive members of the labor force can only strengthen Italy's economy. Now is the time to think of women not as a problem, but as a resource for the corporate world.
In Italy, women want to be integrated into the business world not only because it’s fair, but because it would benefit the Italian economy. Having fewer women in the workforce to begin with means that women in Italy almost never make it to the top of organizations. Putting policies and measures in place to support women who want to work and raise families would certainly benefit women—and potentially raise Italy’s GDP as well.
The World Economic Forum produces an annual study, The Global Gender Gap Report, which measures gender equity using different benchmarks throughout countries around the world. Italy came in 71st in 2013, with Nordic countries such as Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden leading the way in the realm of gender equality. According to ISTAT data, women in Italy make up only 47.1% of the workforce, compared with the Europe-wide average of 58.6%.
A number of professional fields in Italy are female-dominated, including education and health and social care, while most other fields are male-dominated. This won’t change unless women start entering the workforce in greater numbers—and stop being discouraged from entering certain professions.
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in 1792 in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman that “It is time to effect a revolution [in the ways of life of women], it is time to restore to them their lost dignity, and make them, as part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world.” In other words, by improving women’s quality of life, we can change the world. This is just as true now as it was in the eighteenth century.