During the Pandemic It Was More Difficult to Be a Woman Leader in ItalyA REPORT PRESENTED BY PLAN INTERNATIONAL AND BOCCONI AND REALIZED WITH THE SUPPORT OF UNICREDIT FOUNDATION PHOTOGRAPHS FEMALE LEADERSHIP IN ITALY. INCLUSIVE AND QUALITY EDUCATION, PARTICULARLY IN THE DIGITAL SECTOR, IS THE ESSENTIAL TOOL TO PROMOTE THE LEADERSHIP OF TOMORROW'S WOMEN
Women find it more difficult to be leaders and face more discrimination than men. In addition, the context of the pandemic has not been conducive to women's leadership development, as women overworked and in many cases took on dual responsibilities.
These are some of the elements that emerged from the report “Women's Leadership in Times of Covid 19”, by Plan International and Bocconi University with the support of UniCredit Foundation.
National and international indicators show that progress is being made in Italy in terms of the presence of women leaders in various sectors, but it must be recognized that there is still much to do. Gender inequalities create barriers that hinder women's path to leadership in many areas, such as politics and business. Women always have to demonstrate their abilities to a greater extent than men and are more discriminated against if they are in a leadership position. In this regard, one of the survey participants said: “When it comes to a woman leader, often her personal life or her aesthetics are more important than her competence.”
As Giulia Bianchini, spokesperson for the NGO Plan International Italia, puts it: “Girls, adolescents and young women are subject to social norms, including gender stereotypes, that discriminate against them. Thus, from a young age, they are often discouraged from expressing their opinions and, as adults, from participating in politics, which is generally considered a 'male domain'.”
In an increasingly digitized world, it is essential to be aware of the opportunities generated by new technologies. Careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields are emerging strongly in the job market of the future. The report highlights how new technologies represent a possible tool to facilitate women's access to leadership positions. Digital literacy, useful for acquiring digital skills, represents, therefore, a means of progressing toward greater female leadership. More than half of the participants in our study strongly agreed that education and training are essential elements of becoming a good leader.”
In the COVID-19 era, new technologies have proven, on the one hand, to be indispensable, but, on the other, to be a double-edged sword in terms of overburdening women with professional and domestic work. The study shows how the pandemic has not helped women develop more leadership and how the current crisis may worsen gender equality and thus, constitute a barrier to female leadership within the public space.
Positive female role models are needed that girls, adolescents, and young women can look to in order to become the women leaders of tomorrow. “Women leaders also act as role models, an essential channel for changing the conservative culture towards gender roles that still dominates our societies,” says Paola Profeta, director of the AXA Research Lab on Gender Equality at Bocconi University, among the study's editors.
The foundations for an economically stronger generation must be laid from an early age to provide girls with all the opportunities they need to fulfill their ambitions and realize their rights and potential. In particular, girls and young women need to be supported at every stage of their lives in order to be able to make decisions, challenge gender stereotypes and have the chance to become the leaders of tomorrow.
The report also includes a number of recommendations:
1. It is essential that women have access to decision-making spaces and leadership positions at every stage of their lives, in order to build a world in which they can thrive in the areas of politics, the economy and society itself.
2. Increase the presence of women in the education sector, especially in areas related to the digital transition and STEM disciplines.
3. Closely monitor the implementation of flexible work in the future in order to assess the benefits and possible impacts on women's empowerment and leadership even in post-pandemic times.
4. Implement policies that reduce the burden on women from unpaid domestic and care work or encourage greater sharing of the latter (e.g., paternity leave).
5. The role of new technologies can exponentially help increase the presence of women in leadership roles, but this progress must be considered from a gender equality perspective.
by Ezio Renda