According to a recent article in the New York Times, women in Italy have organised massive protests against Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the controversial 74 year old Italian leader who is currently under investigation for his allegedly remunerated social engagements with a 17-year-old girl. Thousands of women across Italy have taken to streets holding signs that broadcast messages like “ENOUGH!” and “We want a country that respects women.” A recent blog piece on genderdebate.com, a discussion forum run by a French economist, explained that “women’s anger in Italy [stems] from escalating gender discrimination in many fields.”
A recent report by GovernanceMetrics International (GMI) found some merit for this argument. Two thirds of all large-cap, publicly-listed companies in Italy have not appointed a single woman to their boards. Overall, women hold only 3.6% of the board seats in Italy. In fact, Italy holds the worst record of board gender diversity in any of the major economies in Europe.
Only one out of the 50 largest Italian companies has appointed more than two women to its board. Investors may start to wonder why major Italian companies like BULGARI, Fiat, and Parmalat have not appointed even one woman to their boards. “We’re not happy to be a second-rate country or an ugly television soap opera,” Susanna Camusso, the leader of the Italian General Confederation of labour, Italy’s largest labour union, said to receptive crowd gathered in Rome. “We want a country in which it’s possible for women to live in dignity,” she added.
Still, frustration with gender equality is not an Italy-specific issue, but rather a global concern. Even major international firms like the Zale Corporation and Domino’s Pizza UK & IRL do not have any women on their boards. In fact, one third of the companies in Europe have not appointed any women to their boards. Even so, most companies in the world do a better job than the big Italian firms. Overall, 59% of the more than 4,200 large cap companies that are listed on markets all over the globe have appointed at least one woman to their boards.
Many countries, like Spain, France, and Norway already have quota systems in place. Italy’s parliament is currently discussing the adoption of a “quota rosa” system that would impose new requirements for the inclusion of female directors on the boards of public companies. The law, which was passed in 2010 by one house of Italy’s Parliament, would require the boards at public and state-owned companies to be at least 1/3 female. The law is still up for debate in the country’s upper house of Parliament.
So far, Mr. Berlusconi has accused his detractors of being “moralists” and “puritans.” Around the world, however, people are not quite as ready to dismiss the issue as a topic for public debate. With the recent release of the Davies Report in the U.K., the topic of gender diversity in the corporate board room continues to be the subject of spirited discussion around the globe. Clearly Italy is heading in a new direction when it comes to equal opportunity and board-room diversity.
Mara Carfagna, the former model whom Berlusconi appointed as the country’s Equal Opportunity Minister, resigned in November, 2010. The women protesting in Rome’s streets, however, are adding new voices to the debate.
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