The role of women entrepreneurs in the world of work

In Italy over the last 50 years, women in the world of work have become increasingly important along that social pyramid where, in the past, they had mostly only played subordinate roles.

There are many factors that have prepared and contributed to what can certainly be defined as a cultural transformation: first of all, a social change in the country due to an improvement in education levels.    

And it is precisely thanks to a high level of schooling and the changes in the labor market that women have thrown down challenges to open up new horizons for themselves.

Women and entrepreneurship

At the beginning of the 19th century, female entrepreneurs were a rarity. 

On the European scene, the first woman entrepreneur was Madame Edmonde Foinat, who in 1941 founded the foundation FCEM, Femmes Chefs d’Entreprise Mondiales, currently transformed into an NGO that animates national associations of women entrepreneurs throughout the world, present in 70 countries, including emerging ones, on the four continents. 

In Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, Luisa Spagnoli distinguished herself, first with the creation of the ‘Perugina’ company and the iconic ‘Bacio’ chocolate, then with the ‘Ditta Luisa Spagnoli’ that became famous for its angora jumpers: a woman who knew how to combine her marked managerial sense with a ‘social’ vision of the factory, committing herself to the emancipation of her employees as women and as workers. 

Today in our country, female entrepreneurs represent the most visible phenomenon in the process of women’s affirmation in the employment structure, but there is still a long way to go: in fact, they still represent only 28 % of the total in the Italian business landscape.

To discuss the propensity for greater realisation of women-business potential, we met with Camilla Carrega Bertolini,  Program Director of  the Master in Food and Beverage Management, and the Master in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Rome Business School, who told us:

“Women’s influence in business has become a topic of great interest because it is considered a lever for achieving fair and efficient development. For female entrepreneurship, especially after the covid 19 pandemic, we see a positive trend. Female entrepreneurship in Italy stands at 28% with a growth forecast of 39%: a curve that gives us hope for the future, even if we are behind other European countries such as Germany and France.”

The PNRR

The severity of the Covid 19 pandemic situation prompted the European Institutions to agree on a powerful temporary tool for boosting the economy, the Next Generation EU, which envisaged the allocation of huge investments starting from 2021 to make Europe greener, digital, and capable of responding adequately to present and future challenges. 

Against this backdrop, the European InvestEU programme was developed, which facilitates access to finance for economic actors with a high risk profile with the aim of increasing female entrepreneurship in all EU member states.  

In this respect, the PNRR, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan presented by Italy to the European Commission, which reserves a strong focus on policies to reduce the gender gap, also fits in. It proposes to implement six main actions, the fifth of which is called precisely ‘Inclusion and Cohesion’, with a total allocation of around 20 billion is aimed at facilitating an immediate positive impact also of women in the labour market.

“I see the NRP as a great opportunity for female entrepreneurship. The empowerment of women will be included in all three main drivers where the funds will be allocated: we are talking about innovation, digitalisation and social commitment. I am convinced that Italian companies that invest in promoting female management will be more competitive and ready for the new demands of the world of work.”

The glass ceiling

In Italy, the increasing participation of women in the labour market, a general phenomenon common to all EU countries, has not correspondingly changed the cultural approach to gender roles. In fact, there has been no change in corporate organisational culture capable of allowing them to enter those sectors where they are currently strongly under-represented. 

In Italy, in order to go beyond the ‘glass ceiling’ and overcome those invisible barriers that prevent women from reaching top positions and responsibilities in the professional sphere, a different approach from the normally understood ‘pink quota’ is needed, and to act on levers based on meritocratic policies and on a change in the mentality and behavior of the entire community.

 

In our country, the most important aspect to be addressed is the cultural backwardness compared to European countries, since ours is still a very rigid organisationIn order for a woman to realise herself professionally, certain conditions are necessary, without which the path will always be bumpy. It is necessary to break down the gender differentials that are still persistent, and also that the distribution of positions is far from uniform in the various sectors of activity, which reflect stereotyped ‘male-model’ patterns. There is an irremediable lack of policies of real public support for the family that can help job sharing.  If we look at Europe, and Northern Europe in particular, the gap to be overcome is really significant.”

Quality and Attitudes

Women’s diversity is still seen as a problematic factor and not as a strength: in reality, a real relationship of the female gender with the entrepreneurial fabric is a sign of great foresight from an economic as well as a social point of view, so that women can become the real drivers for change in many sectors

The old mode of corporate control legitimised by hierarchical authority, which reflected the idea of orthodox corporate management, has long been crumbling. 

We are currently witnessing the emergence of a new model based on leadership that emphasises the aptitudes of a manager capable of involving the team, of listening to the demands of the individual and the group, and of winning the trust of his interlocutors: prerogatives that have always been associated with the female gender.

For women, the choice to embark on an entrepreneurial path depends on many factors: subjective elements, the social and economic context of reference, but also the opportunities offered come into play. 

I believe, however, that the biggest push depends on believing in oneself, but this approach needs to become stronger. One has to believe more in one’s own abilities in order to emerge.Women are more inclined than men to lifelong learning, they have a desire to improve themselves, they travel a lot and therefore tend to have more intercultural experiences.  Furthermore, they are empathic, have the ability to be transversal in terms of complex organisations and know how to be problem solvers. Important resources that physiologically belong more to the female universe.  

But I would like to emphasise that the problem to be addressed is not the empowerment of women in business. We need to reverse this paradigm because for too long we have focused on the gender gap rather than pushing for a proper rebalancing of skills and competences within each company regardless of gender.

Start-ups

The opening up of new market spaces represents an important activating and stimulating factor for female entrepreneurship.  

Unfortunately, however, even in the panorama of start-ups, the ‘innovative’ enterprises that rely on young talent, the anachronistic condition of gender division is replicated and few women succeed in establishing themselves in typically male strongholds such as the technology sectors. Unless they are the originators. 

“Currently there are many women who have launched start-ups. For example, ‘Le Cicogne’ is a wonderful Italian company that has created an app that matches supply and demand for babysitters. There are also other start-ups created with the aim of supporting working mothers for last-minute urgencies. The funds allocated by the PNRR represented a concrete driving force for the realisation of many new projects. Sometimes, in fact, it is precisely the lack of an initial budget that nips the desire for entrepreneurship in the bud.”

Sustainability

Our society, especially in the aftermath of the covid 19 pandemic, faces multiple challenges, one of the most important being sustainability.

In order to capture the evolutions in the world of work, the concept of sustainability will certainly be an important asset to be included in the management of business realities, in its three contemporary aspects. In fact, I am not only thinking of the canonical economic or environmental sustainability: I am referring to the now unavoidable asset that concerns modern management within which women can play a very important role for all activities, bringing improvements in the companies in which they work.”  

Soft skills

My advice to the younger generation is to never stop studying, to invest in your intellectual capital, to be curious and in love with your work and above all to put passion into what you do. In my marketing lessons to my students I transfer a concept that seems trivial but on the contrary is substantial: you must not start selling your product but you must start a business by asking yourself what need you want to satisfy. So management must not only be seen from our point of view, but also from the point of view of the community. This pushes us to think about being useful, with an approach based on listening, empathy, a sense of community and passion. Sustainable and ethical are my keywords for true success.”


CAMILLA CARREGA BERTOLINI

Graduated from the University of Florence with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology and a Master’s degree in Oenology,she was Academic Coordinator of the Oenological and Gastronomic Studies of Apicius- International School of Hospitality in Florence and of the Gambero Rosso Academy in its headquarters in Rome. She has promoted the Italian lifestyle through food and wine around the world, collaborating with international bodies such as the James Beard NY foundation and several American universities. Camilla is a Mentor for StartupbootcampFoodTech, the leading accelerator for startups innovating the food industry, where she works as a guide for everything related to integrated agribusiness management and development, business models and international education.Today CEO of Volognano Farm, Consultant specialised in F&B for Strategic Communication and Media Relations, where he develops and applies tailor-made business acceleration models and plans for crisis management as well as being lecturer for several Italian and international Universities in F&B Management, Communication, Strategy Program Director of  the Master Food and Beverage Management and the Master in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Rome Business School. 

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