Agnes Uhereczky is a consultant, podcaster and workplace transformer. She is the co-founder of the WorkLife HUB.
A number of countries have recognised the economic potential of making way for more women to enter the labour market. 6 years after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe introduced his “womenomics” policy, an additional 2 million women have entered the Japanese labour market. A number of factors are behind this result, among them a change in public opinion, new government policies and economic anxiety. Could such a push work also in other countries, for instance in Italy?
Despite a lot of convergences between EU countries, there are still a number of issues on which some countries perform much better than others, and one such aspect is the employment rate of women. Whereas in the North of Europe today almost 3 out of 4 working age women are in paid jobs, and the gender pay-gap is the smallest among OECD countries, in Italy one woman out of two (between 15 and 64 years) does not work. Despite many years of exchanging good practice on labour market policies, other EU countries haven’t turned into a Scandinavian one.
Difficulty combining work and care
Italy, which is also the focus of the EU funded project EQW&L: Equality for Work and Life, is struggling to boost the female employment numbers and is, therefore, looking at innovative new approaches to find sustainable solutions and create a momentum for change. The reasons for the low levels of female employment in Italy are complex, rooted in many years of gendered norms and policies around work and care.
One of the challenges revolves around the lack of available, accessible daycare services for under 3 years old children. Whereas 93,7% of children above the age of 3 are in formal childcare arrangements, only 25,1% of children under the age of 3 are. Practically half of them, 49,2% are looked after by family member, and the other half by other informal childcare arrangements (nannies...etc). This means, that in those families the mother or the grandmother is not working, or only working part-time on the formal labour market, due to the childcare provision.
Other challenges include pregnancy and parenthood discrimination at work, one in four women loses her job within a year of giving birth, according to data from national statistics agency Istat - a risk which increases with each subsequent child. The lack of return policies and programmes, supporting women (and men) returning to work after an extended period of leave is also a problem.
The lack of available flexible working options - and especially the opportunity to work flexibly on full-time pay equivalent is an additional factor.
The Italian government and the autonomous regions have implemented a number of provisions to improve the situation. With the statutory paternity leave extended to 7 days from previously 1, new entitlements for carers and the Smart Working law for the public sector, change is coming.
A new, innovative approach
However, change needs to come to even more areas to support the women and men in Italy, who say they are struggling with work-life balance, and those whose care responsibilities and lack of access to quality employment with flexible schedules hinders them from finding and keeping quality employment.
Therefore a European Project, funded by the European Commission’s (EaSI) programme for Employment and Social Innovation, called EQW&L: Equality for Work and Life, managed by ANPAL is attempting a new and innovative approach. The Italian partners, supported by the international organisations (from Spain, Norway and Belgium) of the consortium developed a Toolkit and a new Intervention model to support the work of Public Employment Services, job-seekers and SMEs with crucial information, skills and competences to create more and better opportunities to reconcile work and care responsibilities.
These are the phases of the project:
the first phase will be devoted to: project start & set-up, comprehensive toolkit and model of intervention’s refinement; preparation of information/training tools for public and private employment services’ staff and creation of a local network of SMEs among which to raise awareness on work life balance.
Phase 2 will be devoted to testing EQW&L’s model of intervention and toolkit with around 190 unemployed persons in 4 Italian Regions. In this phase awareness raising activities among SMEs on work life balance will be also conducted and monitored.
During the following months (phase 3), data collected during the experimentation will be analysed and interpreted to address our key research questions on the effects of our experimentation and to identify causal explanations for different effects.
Phase 4 regards monitoring and evaluation activities.
The up-scaling strategy process and follow up activities will be aimed at disseminating the action to both immediate stakeholders and a wider audience in the areas involved in the project (phase 5).
In conclusion, the sixth phase covers project management and coordination’ activities that will be carried out throughout the entire action. Overall, the project aims to maximise opportunities for exchange and sharing of transnational experiences.
The project is currently in its 2nd phase and the programme is being rolles out in 4 Italian regions to test with about 190 participants. There is also a comparison group, unemployed persons who are currently benefiting from the classical approach, which will give the project critical insights as to what works and what works less.
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