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  • Immagine del redattoreCristina Bombelli

Why is the glass ceiling so thick for women managers in Italy?

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The Italian context is characterized by a thicker glass ceiling than the one found in the other European countries. Even though in the past decades a steady and significant increase in women’s scholarity rates has occurred, women’s participation in the job market and their presence among high level hierarchical roles in companies underlines that the Italian situation is one of the least advanced in Europe.


Why does it occur in one of the most industrialized countries? The vertical segregation of women in the working environment cannot be exclusively attributed to their need to reconcile work with family and personal commitments, due to the fact that Italy has the lowest birth-rate in the world. Notwithstanding the significant influence of Catholic values, both the context culture and the company culture do not deem the role of family as being important.


In the last years, the number of women in search of a job has also been increasing . Research shows that the presence of a dominant masculine organizational culture, which is not sensitive to gender differences, prevents Italian women from having equal opportunities in professional growth and career paths. Particularly, inside Italian companies significant stereotypes are widespread which emphasize the difficulty for women to reconcile their family with their career and to devote enough time and effort to their work.


Women are not segregated directly, but by decision making processes and choices which implicitly privilege men. The research findings are based on six case studies, analysed through in-depth interviews and focus group methodologies. The ethnographic methodology was used in order to point out the implicit managerial cultures of the nine companies analysed. The main results point out some peculiar aspects of the Italian managerial culture which prevents women from following managerial career paths: time management, power management, leadership styles, and motherhood.


As far as time management is concerned, in the companies analysed it is not oriented towards efficiency and results, but often seen as relationship – based: people who stay longer in the office are considered more reliable and motivated, with the consequence that women who have to reconcile work with family time and needs are segregated. Power is managed in a fairly implicit way, without transparency.


This differs depending on the personal style of each manager. This situation leads managers to make decisions which favour people similar to themselves, also in terms of gender. Highly regarded leadership styles and incentives are based on masculine features, such as: strength, decision power and authority. Women have to fit in with and adopt these features, if they wish to be in high level hierarchical positions in the organizations. Finally, companies mostly consider motherhood a cost and a constraint. The research looks at the features peculiar to Italy where female management is concerned.


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