In its report, entitled The Missing Entrepreneurs 2015, the OECD said that of the 25 EU states surveyed, women in Italy were the least likely to be new business owners, followed by France and Belgium.
Italy had the lowest figure for new businesses owned by women at 0.8 percent of the population, compared to 2.2 percent of the population who were male new business owners.
But the data came from the period between 2009 and 2013 – when Italy languished in its worst downturn since the Second World War.
Quite a lot has changed since then. As established companies suffered, a large band of risk-taking young Italians saw it as an opportunity to carve a niche for themselves.
There are currently 4,365 registered startups in Italy, according to figures from the Chamber of Commerce.
Official data on how many of those are owned by women is difficult to come by, but according to a list collated by the website Girls in Tech, there were 86 Italian startups founded by women in 2014 – over 30 more than in 2013.
The companies were set up across Italy and in sectors ranging from renewable energy and software to food and travel.
Sara Brunelli, from the Emilia-Romagna region, was among those who struck out last year when she co-founded BidToTrip, a luxury travel auction site, with Chiara Fusaroli and Antonio Augusto.
The startup recently managed to attract €107,800 in investment via the crowdfunding website, Seedrs.
Other examples of startups led by women are Glaamy, an online beauty treatment booking service, and Le Cicogne, a babysitter-finding website.
Asked about the gender imbalance in the OECD figures, Cinzia Carter, the CEO of Glaamy, argued that getting on in business in Italy was less about gender and more about being determined.
“I’ve not suffered any particular discrimination here in Italy,” she told The Local.
“If you want to convince investors then the most important thing is to have a brilliant idea and a strong and determined character.”
Monica Archbugi, the CEO of Le Cicogne, said she had not encountered any discrimination in finding funds or in enforcing her idea.
“The only criteria for success is meritocracy and you just have to put in a lot of work to achieve certain results: both women and men,” she said.
“Probably most women are convinced that technology is not a useful enough tool to meet their own needs. And perhaps that is why they are not encouraged to produce ideas to propose to a specific audience.”
By Ellie Bennett