Italy’s ‘determined’ women boost business

Italian women are taking over the male-dominated business world by launching an increasing number of new firms, but one expert tells The Local there is still a long road to gender equality.

Italy's 'determined' women boost business
Women have the highest business ownership rates in southern Italy. Business photo: Shutterstock

While female entrepreneurs have a way to go before they have equal business ownership to men in Italy, there are signs of a shift towards a better gender balance.

Women make up 45.23 percent of employees in Italy, but own just 21.44 percent of businesses, the chamber of commerce Unioncamere said on Thursday.

But between April and June this year, female business ownership crept up by 0.73 percent. The change may seem small, but the average figure was just 0.42 percent and during the same period Italy returned to recession.

“Above all women are confronting the crisis with determination and creativity,” Unioncamere said.

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But Serena Sileoni, vice director of think tank the Bruno Leoni Institute (IBL), said women are still being held back by gender stereotypes.

“Women are necessarily divided between the family role, which still seems inescapable, and the aspiration for professional gratification and working life not thought possible before,” she told The Local.

While Italian women today are in a better situation that their grandmothers, Sileoni said the domestic role “makes it exhausting” to lead a successful career.

She has however been able to lead a varied working life as a lawyer, researcher, journalist and consultant. “Equal access to education and the world of work today makes a woman’s skills equal to those of a man,” Sileoni said, in theory.

Italian culture is now catching up, which she hopes will allow women equal access to business opportunities: “The evolution of traditions and social norms seem to be going in the right direction, towards the recognition of the ability of women in the world of work and those of men in the domestic world.”

North-south divide

Although southern Italy is seen as more traditional than the north, the Unioncamere figures show women in the south are reversing this trend.

Women have the highest business ownership rates in the southern region of Molise, where 28.26 percent of firms are female-owned. In close second came southern Basilicata, with 26.53 percent.

The lowest rates of female representation were found in the industrial north. In Lombardy, home to Italy’s economic capital Milan, just 18.04 percent of businesses are owned by women. The figure puts the region just slightly above northern Trentino-Alto Adige, where only 17.24 percent of businesses have a woman at the top.

When divided by trade women are most strongly represented in a range of service industries, where ownership has hit 49.62 percent. Women also have a strong presence in health and social services (38.46 percent) and teaching (29.44 percent).

Men are most dominant in the construction industry, owning 94.18 percent of firms, and as energy and air conditioning suppliers (91.40 percent). 

SEE ALSO: 'There is misogyny in the Italian wine industry'

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Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post

Pope Francis has broken with Catholic tradition to appoint a woman as an undersecretary of the synod of bishops, the first to hold the post with voting rights in a body that studies major questions of doctrine.

Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post
Pope Francis has appointed Nathalie Becquart as undersecretary of the synod of bishops. She is the first woman to hold the post. Photo: AFP

Frenchwoman Nathalie Becquart is one of the two new undersecretaries named on Saturday to the synod, where she has been a consultant since 2019.

The appointment signals the pontiff's desire “for a greater participation of women in the process of discernment and decision-making in the church”, said Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the synod.

“During the previous synods, the number of women participating as experts and listeners has increased,” he said.

“With the nomination of Sister Nathalie Becquart and her possibility of participating in voting, a door has opened.”

The synod is led by bishops and cardinals who have voting rights and also comprises experts who cannot vote, with the next gathering scheduled for autumn 2022.

A special synod on the Amazon in 2019 saw 35 female “auditors” invited to the assembly, but none could vote.

The Argentinian-born pope has signalled his wish to reform the synod and have women and laypeople play a greater role in the church.

He named Spaniard Luis Marin de San Martin as the other under undersecretary in the synod of bishops.

Becquart, 52, a member of the France-based Xaviere Sisters, has a master's degree in management from the prestigious HEC business school in Paris and studied in Boston before joining the order.