Gender equality? At work, adapting conditions to specific situations

Gender equality? At work, adapting conditions to specific situations

The gender gap affects all occupational categories, albeit with some differences related to age and qualifications. For this very reason, achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that countries have committed to achieve by 2030.

Gender equality is a particularly important issue for a company like DVArea, which operates in the construction supply chain (a traditionally male-dominated environment) and which stands out for its innovative approach. And I can’t but think of the ever-iconic phrase by Gae Aulenti, who passed away ten years ago, “Architecture is a man’s profession, but I have always pretended that wasn’t true”.

The gender gap affects all occupational categories, albeit with some differences related to age and qualifications. For this very reason, achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that countries have committed to achieve by 2030.

As stated in the Communication on the European Commission’s Strategy for Gender Equality 2020-2025, so far no member state has achieved equality between men and women. In the world of work, gaps continue to exist in terms of pay, management positions and participation in political and institutional life; gender stereotypes based on a standardised model of woman, man, girl and boy also persist, which, together with those of race, religion, disability and sexual orientation, widen the gap. In Italy, starting with Article 3 of our Constitution, which proclaims equality before the law without distinction of sex, the not-easy road to gender equality in the world of work is far from over.

Since 1950, a series of laws have been enacted with a view to protecting and supporting women, recognising their basic rights and guaranteeing equal opportunities.

Law No. 162/2021 on Equal Pay was recently published, which aims to support virtuous companies that use good practices in gender equality, and established the permanent working group on gender certification of companies, which aims to certify the policies and concrete measures taken by employers to reduce the gender gap in terms of career growth opportunities in the company, equal pay for equal work, gender equality management policies and maternity protection.

Is the world of work ready to achieve this goal?

As Tanya Dabellani, DVArea Cfo, said, “The laws are there, the business opportunities too.” The issue unfortunately becomes more complicated if a working woman decides to be a mother. In this case (with a few exceptions), it must be noted that, in order to enable the proper placement in strategic positions of a professional who is also a mother, the public support network is insignificant.

Early and after-school services that start in October and end in May, public nursery schools with interminable waiting lists, are just a few examples of the organisational problems that affect the daily lives of working mothers’. Is a country that does not invest and create public services to support these women a state that believes in this objective? For those who are lucky and have a family network of grandparents and uncles and aunts, being able to work at all levels is certainly easier, but Italy is a democratic republic founded on work, not on grandparents. I am lucky, DVArea is a classic example of how Italian companies are on track with gender equality. I was given the necessary trust to take on a position of responsibility, a contract with flexible hours, the possibility to work remotely.

The reason why I am really lucky, though, is the fact that I was born in the “right” part of the world: a world in which dealing with equal opportunities only means discussing equal pay, family/work time balance. Unfortunately, there are still (too many) countries where a girl cannot choose what to read, how to dress, whom to marry, how to use her body. For all of them, equal rights are still a mirage and this should be the priority on all international political agendas. For them we are absolutely not close to goal 5. For all of them we must and can do more“.

Gender mainstreaming

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan, developed to revive national development in the wake of the pandemic, addresses gender equality through Gender Mainstreaming, a process to better understand the causes of inequalities between women and men in our society and to identify the most suitable strategies to combat them.

Based on the assumption that equal participation of men and women at all levels of society plays an essential role in ensuring development and democracy, mainstreaming challenges welfare policies specifically aimed at women that only accentuate gender stereotypes.

In other words, as long as career-enhancing work models are based on full-time employment contracts, women will always struggle as they have to mediate work demands with family demands. In order to improve the work-life balance, processes must therefore be changed so that they can also involve women. Because true equality is not achieved by treating all workers (not just gender differences) equally, but by adapting conditions to their specificities.

Luisa Pogliana, a management scholar, in her book “A surprising genealogy”, clearly outlines a new reality in which women in management, in addition to being numerically significant, are bringing a new conception of the way companies are governed, without adapting to the dominant male culture, but rather advocating change, in that they have interpreted the role of manager with a social meaning, based on human relations and the search for balance within individual organisations.


What is happening in the science and technology sector?

There are still very few women studying and working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), even though, especially young women, perform better than men in digital literacy.

A survey by ACLI (Italian Workers Christian Associations) recently published by the Corriere della Sera shows that “the wage gap with men is widest among those with only a junior secondary school diploma and is completely zero for those with a scientific degree”: female graduates in STEM subjects earn the same as men and even slightly more.

According to Marta Olivieri, DVArea Associate and Innovation manager, “Change requires all the contributions that young female scientists, researchers and talented women can give. This is as true in academia as it is in the workplace, which is increasingly generating new examples to adopt. Women know how to intertwine together skill, sensitivity and concreteness. To invest, interconnect, and innovate. It is the regenerative force typical of women. Of those women driven by passion who achieve goals which are even impossible to imagine.

The paradox is that, despite the fact that the world’s first algorithm was written by a woman, Countess Augusta Ada Byron, daughter of the famous poet, today the evidence of how algorithms that are not at all neutral widen the many male-female gaps to the point of making them unbridgeable, is now copious and pressing.
An increasing number of organisations are using algorithms to post job advertisements online, screen CVs, schedule interviews and determine job placements. But algorithms, often seen as a means to speed up the selection process and reduce unconscious bias, can produce discriminatory outcomes. This happens both because they learn from time series and because they may have been set with biased data that is not fully representative.

In order to foster greater female participation, role models and targeted educational programmes are needed. For example, the NERD project? IBM Italia’s (Non È Roba Per Donne? – It’s not for women?), in collaboration with 28 universities throughout Italy, aims to spread the passion for IT among young female students to guide their university choices and show how Artificial Intelligence is a creative, interdisciplinary, social and problem-solving discipline. All activities in which women excel. To improve the future, it might to useful to look back to the past, taking Countess Byron as an example. Technology is beautiful, artificial intelligence is beautiful in that it has enormous potential for everyone, but we must ensure that innovation, which is so important, does not take hold by sacrificing the battles that have been fought and are still unfinished on the road to equality”.

We need to work on women’s empowerment

In a company like DVArea (consisting of about 90 partners, collaborators and employees), if we are not yet at break-even in numerical terms, we are certainly reaching the break-even point in terms of professional recognition and senior management roles of women. Our daily experience, including consideration of our privileged point of view on the world of construction and scientific disciplines, shows us that the female approach in both management and design and construction does not lead to any kind of resistance in stakeholders, be they clients, project partners or construction companies.

According to Ilaria Brescianini, Senior engineer at DVS, “Women’s empowerment means not only the opportunity for women to access managerial and senior roles, but above all the possibility of being enabled to express their potential and become protagonists, and thus active participants, in company processes on an equal footing with men.

Since 2021, I have been part of DVArea’s facilities division and have personally experienced the importance of professionals working together. This is our added value: it is not the gender of the engineer that matters but the contribution and professionalism he or she brings to the achievement of goals”.

If we have finally reached the point where it is professionalism that influences results and not the gender of the professional, this is also due to the fact that, again in Marta’s words, “everyone has to play their part: in DVArea we promote inclusion as a strength and diversity as an asset towards change, aware that inequality today means inequality in the future”.

And, in the game of two sides, the first step must be taken by women themselves, young or old, taking an active role in achieving this result.

So what needs to be done? Starting with Gae Aulenti, looking for female models of leadership to follow, implementing gender equality even in one’s own family, using dedication to work and irony to overcome male stereotypes.

Alessandra Romanelli

12 dic 2022

15' min read


#sdg2030 #nrrp #gendergap #genderequality #emancipation #worldofwork

Alessandra Romanelli:

COO DVA – Associate DVArea.