Gender imbalance: the unspoken barrier




Ilaria Valtimora

Gender imbalance: the unspoken barrier

Tomorrow, we will finally publish our Women’s Power List. I joined A Word About Wind just four months ago, and working on this project has been a great opportunity. 

We have been in touch with the women who hold the greatest influence in wind, and have discussed some of the issues around gender imbalance in business – including whether it is really an issue, and what companies can do to attract and retain more women.

So, with that in mind, I felt like I wanted to give my contribution too. In my view, one of the big issues here is about social dynamics, as the family and country you grow up in can have a significant influence on the success of your career. 

In Italy, where I come from, it is quite normal for both men and women to be asked in a job interview which are your life’s priorities. You then have to put the words ‘family’, ‘money’ and ‘work’ in order. And you can find tonnes of articles on the Internet that strongly advise you that, in particular if you’re a woman, the best thing to say is: “work, money, family.” 

Many of these articles go on to explain the unspoken reasoning behind this: it’s a risk to hire a woman who wants to get married and could potentially get pregnant after a few months or years after she has been hired. This means that they will have to pay her to stay at home.

So, especially for your first job, you must demonstrate that you want just to work and make money. Nothing else. Even having a stable relationship can be seen as a threat sometimes, and one of the questions that you find yourself to answer to is also if you have a boyfriend and which are your future plans with him. In the UK, it is illegal to discriminate in this way under the Equality Act 2010, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, however subtly.

How do women in Italy react to this? Well, statistics on Italy’s employment conditions draw a clear picture. Latest figure shows that unemployment rate in Italy is 10.9%, while female unemployment rate is 12%. In the south of the country, this rate rises to 21%. 

Strikingly, you also have 8million women who have completely stopped looking for a job. This means that 13.5% of the Italian population is too discouraged even to look for work.

I believe that in some countries there is a kind of invisible and unspoken barrier for women. Nobody is going to stop you if you want to go to the university or work for big companies or banks, but you have to be prepared to deal with a certain amount of pressure.

This is why I have enjoyed working on Women’s Power List. It helped me realise even more that if you want to see women in senior roles, companies and governments have to start to encourage them when they are young. This can help inspire more of us to do our best.