Before starting, I wish to thank the Italian Permanent Representation, as well as the Representations of Belgium, Bulgaria and Japan for having co-organized this event.
It is indeed a great honour and pleasure for me to have the opportunity to host this panel and discuss on such an important topic as women’s participation in all levels of decision-making with the distinguished colleagues that are here today.
Women represent half of the world population. Nevertheless their contribution to economic and social life is still far from being up to their potential. They are under-represented in economic decision-making throughout the world.
Today, I would like to highlight some main points on this issue.
In a recent study of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on equal opportunities in the labor market and the implications in terms of economic growth, non-discrimination between men and women represents one of the crucial points.
According to the study, indeed, the elimination of discrimination against women allows a greater number of women to enter the labour market and participate in economic growth.
In other terms, the increased participation of women in economic life can boost growth and stability.
Therefore, only by avoiding the “wasting” of this resource, we can cope with the severe economic crisis we are experiencing.
The IMF research highlights the “wasted” GDP because of the discrimination against women: in the US it is equal to 5%, in Japan 9% and in Italy the percentage grows to 15%.
Over the last years, Italy has been actively involved in the European and international debate on gender equality and women’s empowerment and several actions have been put in place at national level in order to promote a higher presence of women in decision making.
Our commitments have been aimed at paying special attention to gender mainstreaming in Government actions and taking into due consideration the gender perspective in all choices, policies and decisions promoted by the public Authorities at all administrative levels.
Let me now introduce the Italian context.
According to the 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index, Italy ranks 41st out of 145 countries and, specifically:
• 24th for political empowerment
• 111th for economic opportunities
• 109th for gender pay gap
It is particularly interesting to underline the sharp increase of 30 places compared with 2013 and 2014, when Italy was, respectively, at the 71st and 69th place in the ranking.
This happened because in Italy, we are currently experiencing a significant revolution in women’s leadership – which I would like to briefly describe – due not only to political empowerment but also to a specific gender quota policy.
In 2011, the Italian Parliament passed Law No. 120 on gender quotas. The law established the need for companies to keep a balanced representation of women and men within the boards of directors and boards of statutory auditors of the listed companies and state-owned companies.
The introduction of this law has led to a significant increase in the percentage of female positions in the boards of listed and State-owned companies.
Until 2010, compared with the main European countries, Italy has been characterized by a lower number of women in the boards of listed companies, with a share equal to only 6%.
As a consequence of the entry into force of Law No. 120 of 2011, Italy is now one of the countries making the most significant progress in Europe in terms of women at the top level of the enterprises.
The main direct effects of the law include that the share of women on corporate boards of listed companies is now equal to 27.4% and the share of women on corporate boards of State-owned companies is now equal to 26.4%
But the law has also some significant indirect effects, namely:
– At the time of the constitution of the current Government, Italy had for the first time perfect gender equality in the Cabinet;
– we have for the first time in Italy 3 women appointed to the Constitutional Court;
– we have for the first time in Italy 3 women appointed to the High Council of the Judiciary;
– In the Italian Parliament, the share of women is now equal to about 33% in the Chamber of Deputies and 30% in the Senate.
We can also mention many effects in qualitative terms affecting corporate governance.
According to our survey, conducted in collaboration with Bocconi University of Milan, as a consequence of the introduction of the law, in Italy younger women are now members of the boards.
Furthermore, there are members with a higher education, particularly because the companies that have renewed their boards according to the quota law now include more male members with post-secondary education.
In addition, the number of members with tasks in more than one board has decreased after the introduction of quotas.
Moreover, quotas are associated with fewer women who are members of family-owned businesses.
These results suggest that quotas have not been associated with a decrease in the quality of board members (a common concern related to the introduction of gender quotas), rather the opposite.
Plus, companies’ short-term debt has decreased on average.
This generally indicates an improvement of the income and expenditure balance, or an enhancement of the company’s capability to be paid by its own customers, namely a potential improvement in the company’s performance.
And finally, our studies show that the application of quotas has been reflected in an increase in the number of women appointed as presidents….. even if still fewer women are CEOs.
As Christine Lagarde said just a few days ago, a more recent IMF staff study (entitled Unlocking female employment potential in Europe) confirmed the results revealed on the Italian context.
The research, which involved 2 million firms in 34 countries in Europe, reveals that the higher is the number of women in senior managerial positions and in corporate boards, the more profitable firms are.
The results are clear: increasing female participation improves both the company’s performance and profits.
In fact, it is not only women who may economically benefit from working.
Bringing more women into the labor force benefits a country’s economy as a whole in two important ways, as IMF said:
• First, more women in the labor force will expand labor supply. If women choose to participate in the labor market as much as men do, Europe’s workforce, for example, could increase by 6 percent. If they also choose to work as many hours as men, the workforce could grow by as much as 15 percent.
• Second, the prevalence of full-time female employment is a strong predictor of the share of senior corporate positions held by women. And a higher number of women in senior managerial positions and in corporate boardrooms is associated with stronger firm financial performance, which would help support corporate investment and productivity, further mitigating the slowdown in potential growth in Europe.
Now the question is…. Is a gender quota law enough for the purpose of full participation of women in decision-making?
In my opinion, quotas represent a crucial trigger for an initial change which must be followed by a deeper cultural change in workers’ career advancement mechanisms.
To achieve the steady participation of women in the economy, we need tools that strengthen the presence of women in management positions and allow them to remain in these top positions even without quotas.
Therefore, the first point to take into consideration is the involvement of women and men in removing social and cultural barriers that prevent women from realizing their potential.
Men should be aware that they can be active together with women, to make the country more inclusive and definitely a better country. A good example of that is “HeForShe”, the solidarity campaign for gender equality developed by UN Women.
Its goal is to engage men and boys as agents for change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights, by encouraging them to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls, that will benefit all of humanity.
The second point is the need for change in the organization of work, in order for it to be more flexible, goal-oriented and independent from the physical presence of employees.
The so called “smart working”, for example, can trigger a cultural change in which women do not need to choose between career and family anymore. Indeed, this innovative organization of work for both women and men would contribute to eliminating gender stereotypes, while solving the problem of reconciling work and family life and eradicating all forms of discrimination against working women.
This cultural change could be led at different levels by several players:
– by the public sector, through policy instruments introduced by the governments,
– by companies, as pioneers in experimenting new and flexible work arrangements,
– but also by NGOs, in raising collective awareness of the issue.
This is an ongoing process in which all these measures aiming at gender equality and women’s empowerment are combined and could be a key business issue and a driver for economic growth.
Thank you for your attention.