Sharing care as an opportunity for development of skills

Historically in Italy, family care burdens have weighed more heavily on women. Today, in fact, three quarters of unpaid caring work is performed by women, also due to the persistence of strong cultural gender stereotypes. Caregiving and parenting are key aspects that influence the gender gap and also affect companies, which can play a decisive role in ensuring a better balance.

How can this gap be overcome? What policies should be adopted to move from the concept of reconciling work and care time to that of sharing the burden of care? Answers to these questions were sought during the talk “8 March: from reconciliation to sharing” organised by Valore D on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2022, in which Riccarda Zezza, CEO of Lifeed also participated.

Change starts (also) from companies

“The pandemic has held back progress towards gender equality,” Zezza explained. “Shared parenting today is considered a ‘nice to have’, but it is not seen as something urgent”.

Italy is among the last countries to have introduced compulsory paternity leave of 10 days, which is in any case much shorter than the five months’ leave for mothers. Moreover, data on female employment and fertility rates see Italy at the bottom of international rankings.

Some companies are trying to fill the gap left by other institutional players on these fronts. However, as pointed out by Paola Mascaro, President of Valore D, there is a dichotomy between culture and pragmatism: “Resistance to change exists even in large companies, where the cultural baggage of individual bosses can penalise employees who want to devote themselves more to their role as fathers”. According to Mascaro, special regulations are needed to make change more effective.

Organisational culture, therefore, plays a decisive role, but it must be accompanied by laws and daily actions that can facilitate the sharing of care burdens between fathers and mothers. Everyone would benefit, because such sharing can cause resources and talents to emerge that people already possess in their private life roles and that are useful for their companies.

Caregiving develops skills useful for business

As Zezza mentioned, 73% of employees are caregivers, i.e. they take care of someone. And it is precisely from care burdens that useful skills for businesses can emerge: “Caregiving develops soft skills 70% of which, according to Lifeed’s Work-Life Observatory, are trained in non-work roles. With increased sharing, there would be more opportunities to transfer skills from private to professional life roles and vice versa,” Zezza explained.

On this aspect, Lorenzo Gasparrini, philosopher, author and trainer on gender issues, emphasised that “people work better when they feel better. Large companies are making an effort, but today many small and medium-sized companies still frown on employees taking paternity leave”.

According to Gasparrini, we need to reassess how the role of parent is reconciled with that of worker, which also concerns the time dedicated to work and family, and the domestic space. “Changing laws and the organisation of work in companies involves systemic changes and abandoning hierarchical logic to solve problems”. Our roles, he added, “cannot be compartmentalised”.

Finally, Sofia Maroudia, ESG Officer at Snam, recalled that in Italy women dedicate 22 hours a week to childcare, compared to three hours for men. “Companies can have a great impact to create a better balance through leave for fathers, flexible work and psychological help”. This talk was the conclusion of a Valore D inter-company working table on the subject, created with the support of Snam and Generazione Donna, which involved 25 companies and produced a document containing over 200 good business practices.