Women and work, Swan: “We need to bring the ‘sharing economy’ into the family”

ManpowerGroup’s vice president for global strategies emphasises the importance of sharing child management

Italy is a unique European country, suffering from a depressing mix for the economy and the birth rate. The country has the lowest fertility rate record (1.3 children per woman) along with one of the lowest labour market participation rates and a low female employment rate: just under 50 per cent of women of working age are actually employed. In northern European countries the ratio is the opposite, and positive: more women work than men and more children are born. Mara Swan, executive vice president for global strategies at ManpowerGroup, believes that the condition of female employment could worsen with the advancement of process automation that requires technical skills, which are currently the prerogative of men. According to Swan, in order to solve – or at least begin to solve – the problem of low birth rates in a declining demographic country, where the number of over-60s have overtaken the under-30s, it is useful to start with the “domestic” economy.

What prospects does the digitisation of production processes offer women?

“Digitisation will affect middle management where most women are employed. This is the negative part. Women are important in the digitisation process because they have greater capacity and will to learn, while men do not have such a high predisposition to learning and possessing new skills. It’s true that more women graduate than men and with better grades. However, men graduate at a faster rate in technical faculties such as information technology, for which there is a greater supply of work. So women have the social skills they need in the digitisation process, but men have the highest technical skills. And the figures are demoralising because the number of women with a degree in information technology and engineering are not increasing”.

So which policies should be implemented?
“We need women to graduate from faculties that equip them for jobs that are most necessary for the digitisation process, so I think we should either encourage women or even provide in-company training so that that higher propensity to learn is exploited by teaching technical skills. If we don’t, women will still lose jobs at a higher rate than men in the future”.

We have two big problems at the moment: low penetration of women in the workforce and a weak demography. It is a vicious circle for Italy.
“Italy has a problem which is very similar to Japan’s. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wanted to increase female employment, I don’t know if he will succeed but at least he has spoken about it seriously. In Italy there is a need to increase female employment: both government and companies must try to have a strategy in this regard. If there is no increase in the birth rate or a positive immigration policy with the employment of high-skilled people, the result can only be a major economic problem”.

Are digital platforms and remote and part-time work not enough to allow both mothers and fathers to spend more time with the family?
“It is above all a social issue. For example, my husband stays at home with our children. I think the way women work has to change. In Italy women are seen as those who have to take care of the children, it is a choice. You can choose as a couple how to raise children. And sometimes the man is better equipped or earns less than the woman and can stay at home, but also vice versa. The platform economy provides this opportunity to both men and women through remote working, at home, and even part-time work, which is therefore more flexible. It is therefore possible to balance your work with family life much better than in the case of a job that keeps you in the office or forces you to travel around the world, as happens to me for example. There is therefore, above all, a need for a family “sharing economy”, in which the parenting role is not held by just one parent: in Italy it is commonly the mother who dedicates herself to her children. The “sharing economy” in the family, or a sharing of child management, is definitely a fundamental element”.


Alberto Brambilla

Alberto Brambilla Nato a Milano il 27 settembre 1985, ha iniziato a scrivere vent'anni dopo durante gli studi di Scienze politiche. E' al Foglio dall'autunno 2012, coordina la redazione economica. Ha vinto il premio giornalistico State Street Institutional Press Awards, il premio Biagio Agnes e il premio The News Room intitolato a Fabrizio Forquet.