Anna Chiara is a public policy researcher and has been, as a technical and scientific coordinator, working for the Italian National Agency for Active Labour Policies (ANPAL). Anna Chiara is active in the field of social and labour inclusion of vulnerable categories, social innovation and social economy. Through her work experience in the Italian Institute for the Development of Vocational Training of Workers (ISFOL) Chiara has developed strong expertise in coordinating research groups and projects in the field of social and labour inclusion. In the past six years, she has participated as an expert to the process of reform to the national third sector and monitored European policies and instruments to support the social economy. Currently, she is mainly following the reform of public employment centres and social innovation policies, active labour policy services for the most vulnerable people, the relationship between social economy and active labour policies. Since the beginning of 2019, she sits at the national table for contrasting illegal employment in the agriculture sector, and furthermore, she is also working on the creation of systemic actions of active labour policies for offenders.

What follows here are snippets from our conversation with Anna Chiara Giorio - edited for length and clarity - make sure you listen to the entire conversation for the great insight!

Agnes Uhereczky: What is the project about and what are its objectives?

Anna Chiara Giorio: The main aim of the EQW&L project is to elaborate and test a set of strategies, a new model of intervention and a toolkit to facilitate access to the labour market of unemployed people – women but not only women - who are hindered from getting a job by their reconciliation needs. In the framework of the project, and in coherence with the EASI call of the European Commission (the funding body of the project), the Consortium of the project understands work-life balance in an extended way: not exclusively “women-centred” which focuses on encouraging men's participation in care duties as well as on aspects of personal life not necessary related to caring for dependent people (eg: taking care of personal well-being, sports, hobby, others).

The project also aims to support SMEs – namely those in the social economy – in their process of raising awareness about the potential of working environments that are work-life balance friendly.

There are three key focus areas the project looks into:

  1. Focus on the System - proposing and testing strategies the Italian PES network can use to support people entering the labour market in order for them not to be marginalised due to their work-life balance needs.
  2. Focus on Individuals - unemployed people and/or people looking for a new job and accessing the services of the PES network, to whom the new EQW&L services will offer the opportunity to recognise/address their own specific work-life balance needs. (In the context of the project we mean unemployed people as women, men, or young people looking for a job for the first time and asking a new form of work-life balance.)
  3. Focus on Companies - and namely on SMEs in the social economy sector, which are known to offer relevant employment opportunities for women - and often low skilled women - but at the same time face more difficulties and constraints than bigger companies or corporations in implementing internal work-life balance policies.

Agnes Uhereczky: May I ask you to tell listeners about the different partners involved in the development of the project?

Anna Chiara Giorio: The project is a European project primarily, but implemented in Italy. The project lead is ANPAL. It coordinates and monitors labour policies implemented by the Network of public employment services. The agency is in charge of the scientific coordination of the project, and the up-scaling activities. One of the key partners in the consortium is Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini (FGB), an international research centre, that studies and evaluates employment policies. FGB is in charge of designing, implementing and monitoring of the evaluation system for assessing the piloting experience of the project. It also coordinates the Italian level dissemination activities and supports. Another partner is Gruppo Cooperativo Gino Mattarelli (CGM) that supports the creation of the project’s toolkit definition, and piloting, especially bringing in the perspective of SMEs. Norwegian partner, REFORM, the Resource Center for Men, supports the toolkit definition by providing insights on how to promote higher participation of men to care duties and responsibilities. The Spanish Institute for Women and Equal Opportunities (IWEO) also provides support to the creation of the toolkit definition by sharing insights on their experience in building the business case for work-life balance for companies. The WorkLife HUB - your organisation - also supports the development of the toolkit and coordinates the EU level dissemination of the project, its results and findings. Another partner, the Italian Labour Union (UIL) that provides experience to the toolkit development from the perspective of social partners including on company welfare and firm-level agreements.

Other associates involved in the project are Italian regions (Piemonte, Trento, Campania and Tuscany) and various different organisations. The four regions are all very important partners as they support the local experimentation by providing contextualized inputs for the elaboration of the toolkit, contributing to the dissemination of the outcomes of the project, participating in the seminars and final conference of the project, and participating in the validation process of the project’ experimentation. Two more trade unions are engaged in the project, CGIL and CISL. Other partners include the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of general interest (CEEP), the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the National Institute of Social Security (INPS). Their role is to support the creation of the toolkit, provide access to contextualized data for monitoring and evaluation and disseminate the results of the project.

Agnes Uhereczky: Let us move on discussing the project. Why is it important to run a project on work-life balance in Italy? What is the specific local context that the project is also addressing?

Anna Chiara GIorio: Let me share with you some data. Women represent in 2017 the majority - about ⅔ - of inactive people in Italy. The most common motivation adopted by these women to justify inactivity is linked to their family reasons. Our data confirm that this is true for 2347 women against 113 men. You can see that the problem is big. Then, the gap between male and female participation in the labour market in Italy takes a structural feature. The reconciliation of work and family life in Italy is a challenge that has more critical aspects than the average EU countries. So, it is a political issue on which it is important to intervene, so we can guarantee improved conditions of equality for women and men in their participation in the labour market, and the possibility for being able to deal with the various aspects of private life.

The policy initiatives should come from two directions. The first is to allow all women, who have care duties, to respond to their needs with all existing instruments both regulatory and organisational nature. The second is to balance care duties by guaranteeing fathers the right to reconcile private and working life.

Reconciliation policies, understood as flexible working measures and/or services, have to be available to male and female workers.

Care duties can be an obstacle for those seeking to enter or return to the labour market. Therefore, it is rather important for the project to look into the role of public employment services. An increase in the participation of this target could be facilitated if - in the employment services - the different recipients of active policies could find answers with reference to their need for reconciliation.

Furthermore, in Italy, we are currently working on a general reform on public employment services in order to allow more people to have better employment services. In parallel with this process, the project meets two different goals: first, to allow both women and men to reconcile their work and life needs better, and, second, is to provide better employment services for the catering of reconciliation of work and life.

Agnes Uhereczky: As the project is still ongoing what are going to be the results that we want to achieve?

Anna Chiara Giorio: There are two important results we are expecting from the project. Firstly, to improve the employment of people with work-life balance problems, and, secondly, to improve the work-life balance services managed by PES. Achieving better work-life balance, and balance between a job with caring responsibilities will help to increase the labour market participation rates for all workers in line with the European policy targets.

To give you a structured answer the project presents an integrated approach that acknowledges that care is a life cycle. The integrated approach is important because if measures are drafted as single measures they carry the risk to reinforce gender stereotypes. If, for example, children related leaves are not matched with the possibility to introduce flexible working arrangements, or, if they aren’t complemented with affordable child and long term care services, they could only defer the circumstance in which the carer - often the woman - will exit the labour market.

For more information about the project, we invite our listeners to visit the website of Anpal or the official EQW&L project page. Some more dissemination events and activities are expected to be organised in 2020 about the toolkit, the pilot phase of the project, and lessons learnt.