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Culture and Society: Women in Business

General View

The percentage of working women in Italy ranks among the lowest in Europe, at about 40 percent. Their economic opportunities or the quality of economic involvement is also less than their European counterparts, as most of them are employed in unskilled, low-paid occupations. Part-time employment is also common among women. This has led to a gender gap where women’s wages are about 13 percent lower than men's.

Despite equal opportunities, the number of women in managerial and decision-making positions in both the public and private sectors remains very low, except in family-run businesses. Female representation in politics is also low. Women have made major inroads, however, in the professions and in the creation of new businesses.

Women’s economic activity is different in the industrialized Northern and the more agricultural South. Rural women are involved in farming and other agriculture-related activities, including into agro-tourism and organic farming.

Legal Rights

Italian women have all rights toward property, inheritance, marriage, education, healthcare, and reproduction. Law prohibits any discrimination at work on any grounds. The Equal Opportunity Commission, the Labor Ministry, and other government offices ensure women’s rights at the workplace.

The right to vote was granted to women in 1945. Women hold about 35 percent of the seats in the country's Parliament.

Women in Professions

Traditionally, Italian women were limited to household work, working in the family business, or working in the fields. Better educational standards have led to increased representation of women in professional jobs and executive positions.  Most women work in the services sector, which includes public sector positions (like work in post offices). Popular areas of employment include healthcare, fashion, teaching, and the arts (music, writing, entertainment).

There has been a significant increase in the number of independent women professionals as well. Women are taking up professions like medicine and law on par with men and already make up at least a quarter of magistrates. Unemployment among women runs as high that of men, although women are more likely to lose their jobs during a recession. In almost all sectors, women’s involvement in higher positions still remains limited. 

A few restrictions do exist. By law, women cannot work in underground in mines, tunnels, or quarries. Pregnant women and new mothers are not allowed to work at night. But as far as dress code, no restrictions exist for Italian women. Dressing is conservative, with suits or formal dresses at the workplace.

Women are primarily responsible to their houses and children. This is the reason for many of them to take up part-time employment. Working mothers leave their children with grandparents or at private childcare centers. Some public childcare centers exist in urban areas, but there is no state-sponsored childcare.

Women as Business Owners

There has been a significant increase in the number of women entrepreneurs in Italy. Their number increased by more than double between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Women now represent about a quarter of total entrepreneurs and numbers continue to rise. The percentage of Italian female entrepreneurs with employees is also higher than that of other European countries.