Valentina Dolciotti, Milan, December 9, 2019
It is in the Italy-ASEAN office on Corso Buenos Aires that I met Alessia Mosca, born in 1975. With a degree in Philosophy and PhD in political science, she was an member of the European Parliament until May 2019, today she is Secretary General of Italy-ASEAN and an invited professor at SciencesPo in Paris, where she teaches a course in European Trade Policy. A few days ago, in our country, a law Alessia Mosca authored which, in my humble opinion, drew drew a dividing line in the tradition of Italian culture -corporate, and otherwise – was extended. Let’s examine why. There are some laws, called “temporary laws”, intended to operate for a limited period of time, the length of which is subject to a pre-established expiration date when the law ceases to apply (without the need for an abrogative law). This is the case of the 120/2011 Golfo-Mosca law, approved on August 12, 2011 and scheduled to “end” in 2022. What did it foresee? That the board of directors (BoD) of listed companies could be renewed only by reserving a share of at least 1/5 of their seats for the under-represented gender. To then increase those numbers, on the second and third renewals, that share has to become at least 1/3. And in the case of non-divisible numbers of seats, the fraction of seats is rounded up in favor of the less represented gender. (Therefore, 1/3 of 11 directors is four, not three). The expected impact of this law extended to approximately 300 large companies, with another 6,500 public-sector subsidiaries. You can imagine the fear. Yet, the law was passed and the rest is history. A few days ago, on December 5, a tax decree connected to a budget law was approved in the Chamber along with an extension of the “Golfo-Mosca” law (which would have expired in two years). So, here is the first question for Alessia Mosca, the member of Parliament who together with Lella Golfo, eight years ago, gave birth to the law that bears their names.
Is it often necessary to place an expiration date on a bill?
No. Actually, in my memory, this is one of very few laws that was enacted like this, perhaps the only one, recently. Its limited duration was one of the reasons why it received wide support and I remain a strong supporter of this feature.
Therefore, I immediately asked: why was an extension requested?
Eight years ago, when the law saw the light of day, we had imagined that ten years would have been enough time for structural changes to entrench themselves enough within the country that the change would become irreversible. In truth, over time we have changed our mind, mainly for two reasons: the first is that the times when companies would have met the law on their own would have been at most two or three years (at each renewal of BoD), therefore despite the ten-year expiration of the directive, the moments of change relative to the norm would have been too few to challenge and modify a deeply rooted culture, such as the Italian one. The second motivation is that we saw that the qualitative and quantitative change supposed to be brought by the law has not been realized, alas, by an equally significant change in areas: management has often stalled, women’s participation in the workforce is fluctuating, the public representation of femininity has actually worsened. In summary, therefore, the lack of a change in the system could have undermined the positive results that the implementation of the law would have and has brought. For all these reasons, the extension was necessary and was supported by many women and men.
What tangible results have come from the law in these past eight years?
Quantitatively, the results exceeded the limits that the law had imposed. Today, women occupy 37% of Board of Directors positions. Before the law it was close to 6%; we were the country with the lowest percentage in Europe. Now we have become a worldwide case study for the speed with which the change took place, partially thanks to the very harsh penalties imposed for those who did not meet the requirements (penalties that have been kept in the extension). Law 120/2011 is one of the most studied and analyzed in the history of Italian jurisprudence and I don’t say it with sarcasm: it was a good thing! This attention has given us the opportunity in this moment to propose its renewal with strength and conviction.
Qualitatively, the results are even more surprising, since the BoDs have also benefited with this new requirement. The addition of women to boards has lowered the average age, raised the level of experience / education, increased the degree of international exposure, and affected the masculine appearance while making the selection processes more transparent and fluid. The quality of governance (as demonstrated by the 15th report of The European House – Ambrosetti Observatory on the Excellence of Government Systems in Italy) has risen exactly in conjunction with the introduction of the law. Finally, a study from the Commissione Nazionale per la Societa’ e la Borsa (Consob) in November 2018 correlated, for the first time, the economic performance factors of companies with the new composition of the BoDs, obtaining a positive correlation from all combinations of indicators.
You therefore dispelled the myth that women slow down a company’s business …
Were there loopholes to circumvent of the new legal obligation?
Not a chance. Total transparency in reporting is already required of companies listed on the Italian Stock Exchange and this is also the case for the election of the BoDs. For the investee companies (which number in the thousands in Italy and without a database) some problems could have arisen given the complexity of the monitoring, but at the Prime Minister’s Office – Department of Equal Opportunities, a watch dog unit was set up to monitor and collect the (many) reports of noncompliance cases. Consob’s intervention involved the dissolution of the board and the subsequent re-election of the BoD.
How necessary and – or I should say – imperative was it to write and enact a law?
Completely necessary. Otherwise, the desired change would have come, perhaps, in a hundred years, leading to a decidedly lower percentage increase in representation. Traditionally, in our country, the BoDs are rather opaque places regarding appointments, which proceeded almost by inertia; the quota requirement (which, it must be emphasized to avoid controversy, I consider a means and not an end) has had the desired shock effect and has allowed us to view the past inner workings of BoDs appointments. And by virtue of the results, when the facts came to support what were our original expectations, many people (even women) who were against the use of quotas changed their minds and now we see that “converts are more persistent than initial supporters,” as often happens with religion!
I imagine that the new BoD approval process was not solely gender based.
In fact, not. Actually, and increasingly, accepting differences as an element of enrichment has proven important and applies to all aspects of “diversity”.
Do you think there are other gender issues in Italy that need a “shock” bill?
Yes. For example, a law that mandates paid two-week compulsory paternity leave could helpfully reshape society, the economy and the gender balance. * I am convinced of the following: in order to radically change workplace culture, it is necessary to change how both male and female workers are considered, using a completely neutral lens with respect to gender. It must become “the norm” that all workers, male or female, have the possibility to enjoy their time out of the office. The 9:00a-5:00p model does not work for everyone, and it should not be acceptable to expect employees to be available 24/7, to always be ready, to reply to emails at night, or to linger at their desk well beyond their normal hours. It must become almost inappropriate to schedule meetings without setting an end time or to assume that meetings can start very late in the working day, as often happens. It should become almost expected that fathers, as well as mothers, have the possibility to be absent from work to accompany their children to the doctor or to school without being penalized, by, for example, allowing and encouraging a different idea of working hours. It is not a fantasy, but a matter of practices already solidified in many European countries and a matter of looking around us. Let me give you an example: in Holland those who are at their desk too long and stay after hours too often are seen as unable to manage their time. Therefore, this attitude has a penalizing effect, a bit of an opposite effect of what we see in Italy. And it is common in Holland to discuss with the employer any modification or reduction of one’s work schedule, even if only for a short period or for a specific need.
Very clear. It is for this same reason that smart working is not a conciliatory gesture aimed at and useful only to women, but a benefit all those who work. Furthermore, making paternity leave adequately long and mandatory would formalize a universal truth: when a child is born, something changes at a social level, not just a personal one, also in a man’s life. Awareness is not always taken for granted in companies.
Exactly. An all-in strategy would be needed on these issues. It is not enough to intervene in a fragmented way, it is necessary to activate an all-inclusive system. Let me highlight one example: let’s offer company daycares as an example of “policies for women”. This is not a policy just for women. And also, what even is the meaning of “policies for women”? In short, the change cannot come only from the institutions and the legislature but necessitates the involvement of the whole company, the habits of its stakeholders and customers, everyone must be engaged and involved. The institutions, undoubtedly, have the task of defining the route and promoting the change, but this does not solve everything.
So, should the laws of a country facilitate cultural change or be its consequence?
I think that the legislature and the institutions must have an educational role, as well. They cannot fully reflect the entire culture of a country, on the contrary, they must play a collective role in providing rules for everyone, limiting the expression of inflamed individualism to pursue a common good. An example: the anti-smoking legislation from January 16, 2003 (No. 3 art. 51, Ed.). Was the company ready for such a quantum leap? Not at all! Yet, it was necessary to impose it. Look also to requiring seat belts in cars.
I have a very last question. The gender stereotype of men is much more rooted, heavier and less conscious than that of women, yet, it is less spoken about. Do you have any bills in mind that could help address this dilemma?
Unfortunately, in Italy we are very backward on the subject; prejudices and stereotypes play into gender roles tremendously. I should think about it more often. But, don’t forget that if a change improves the lives of one gender it does not automatically worsen the lives of the other; quite the opposite!
* [Ed. Recall that for the calendar year 2020, article 1, paragraph 342 of the law of December 27, 2019, n. 160 (budget law 2020) increased the number of days of compulsory paternity leave to 7 (for births, adoptions, custody); and confirmed the possibility of receiving 1 day of optional leave as a substitute to the mother.]