Women and the balance between work and home care: what the pandemic can teach us

A joint research project between Università Cattolica and the Politecnico di Milano School of Management to study the impact of Covid-19 on the life of working women


Since March 2020, the CAREER (CARE for womEn woRk) project, funded by Fondo Integrativo Speciale per la Ricerca and stemming from the collaboration between Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (“Carlo Dell’Aringa”-CRILDA University Research Centre for Family Studies and Labour) and Politecnico di Milano School of Management (Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering Department), has been investigating the experiences of working women during the pandemic to identify areas of intervention and solutions. The project involves 14 researchers from Milan’s two universities. On Wednesday 1 December, the first results were presented at the event “Women and the balance between work and home care. What the pandemic can teach us”.

As a result of the project, the managers in charge, Claudia Manzi, Professor of Social Psychology at Università Cattolica, and Cristina Rossi-Lamastra, Professor of Business and Industrial Economics at Politecnico di Milano, have drawn up an extremely complex picture of the working conditions faced by women in the last year and a half.

Working from home during the pandemic has had two-fold consequences and effects on working women. On the one hand, it has provided an opportunity to improve their work-life balance and their work performance. On the other, the gender bias sees women handling most domestic and family affairs (virtually single-handedly), thus restricting their work-family balance to a single sphere, the domestic one. This has had negative consequences not so much on the work performance of working women, but on their levels of stress and mental well-being.

As Professor Manzi of Università Cattolica states: “The underlying cause of this situation may be found in a combination of cultural, relational, logistical and organisational preconceptions. From a cultural point of view, the still largely unconscious adoption of stereotypical prejudices on the role of women in the work world and in the family sphere has undoubtedly been a major obstacle for women workers.”

Such stereotypes,” says Professor Rossi-Lamastra, “result in an unequal allocation of resources. Through the CAREER project, we have seen that, when working from home, women are generally allocated a less adequate work space than men.”

Gender stereotypes have also been aggravated by a number of further situations: little and ill-formulated support from institutions and organisations, and in some cases, lack of support from partners, in addition to inadequate work spaces in the home.

The picture drawn by the research is certainly a complex one, but given how the world of work is evolving in Italy, if we are to promote and sustain female labour force participation then we need to take a less simplistic view of working from home. Above all, we need to develop a stronger sense of identity among working women in terms of their role within organisations and within society as a whole. Working from home should not become a way of preventing women from fulfilling their professional life and their identity as female workers.

The CAREER (CARE for womEn woRk) research project is still ongoing. For more information, please visit the official website at: https://projectcareer.it/

Also worthy reading are some more in-depth articles about the project recently published by Il Sole 24 Ore and IoDonna


WiTECH – Entrepreneurship for Women in Technology

WiTECH (Entrepreneurship for Women in Tech), a European education project fully funded by the Erasmus+ Programme, is designed to encourage women to stay in the ICT sector and to empower them to reach their full potential through the creation of businesses in this sector

Not only is there a growing gap across Europe between the demand and supply for ICT specialists, but women are overwhelmingly under-represented in this sector. Furthermore, women who do choose ICT face a higher risk of dropping out because of unfavourable working conditions and lack of career progress.

Funded by the EU’s Erasmus+ initiative, the WiTECH project is led by Politecnico di Milano (specifically, by the School of Management and by the Department of Electronic, Informatics, and Bioengineering, DEIB).
Besides Politecnico di Milano (POLIMI), the WiTECH consortium includes two other technological universities (Lappeenrannan–Lahden teknillinen yliopisto, LUT, and Technological University Dublin, TUM), three tech start-up hubs (PoliHub, The Startup Shortcut, and Digital Hub Development Agency), as well as a business school (L’Institut de préparation à l’administration générale IPAG) from four European countries.

The team consists of professors and experts in highly relevant technical, educational, economic, and managerial fields from POLIMI. These include Massimo G. Colombo (Full Professor in Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Finance at SoM), Cristina Rossi-Lamastra (Full Professor of Business and Industrial Economics at SoM, with additional expertise in gender issues in business contexts), Mara Tanelli (Full Professor of Automatic Controls at DEIB), Nicoletta Trentinaglia (Senior Project Manager of e-learning, e-collaboration and learning innovation projects).
The project leaders from other partners are: Adnane Maalaoui (Director of Entrepreneurship Programmes – IPAG), Jussi Kasurinen  (Associate Professor and Head of Software Engineering Programmes – LUT), Barry Feeney  (Head of Department of Computing – TUD), Julia Witting-Mäklin (Director of Operations – The Shortcut).
The project also involves young scholars such as Silvia Stroe (Junior Researcher in Entrepreneurship at SoM) and Jie Li (PhD Student in Entrepreneurship at SoM).

Currently, the WiTECH project is putting together a blended learning course, which builds the skills and confidence that women with STEM qualifications need to create their own innovative businesses in ICT fields.
The heart of WITECH is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which is conceived as a self-sustaining tool to encourage professors to innovate their teaching practices. It targets Master’s students in STEM subjects, by being freely available online, it is also intended to spark interest in ICT among high school girls to encourage them to choose this field of studies.
The course will be promoted widely across Europe, after the development and testing of its contents during 2022.

This blended learning course consists of three modules:

Module 1:  Entrepreneurship and management.
Notions of entrepreneurship (including social entrepreneurship), how to become an executive of the 21st century (new working culture, corporate-social responsibility, diversity in the workplace, etc.)

Module 2: Technology entrepreneurship.
The notions of entrepreneurship applied to the specific challenges of starting a business in technology sectors.

Module 3: Training at a tech startup or a tech hub.
Understanding the context of tech startups or tech hubs in the framework of technology entrepreneurial ecosystems.

WiTECH started in Oct 2019, and it is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.  All the course content is now ready and the MOOC format is being produced. The website has just been launched: https://witech.training/.
The Linkedin page of the project is: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/wi-tech/.

We welcome you to join us!

Diversity as a business opportunity

Respect for diversity as an important ethical issue, but also the inclusion of differences as a business lever. Cristina Rossi Lamastra, Professor of Business and Industrial Economics at the Politecnico di Milano Department of Management Engineering, has made diversity management one of her research subjects. Flanked by Mara Tanelli and Silvia Strada, professors with the Department of Electronics and Information at the Politecnico di Milano, and with the support of the linguist Cristina Mariotti, she is investigating the use of data analytic tools to reveal unconscious bias, gender stereotypes in corporate communications.

«Thanks to the Me Too movement, diversity management is an issue that has recently drawn the interest of the general public, but the theme has long been present in scientific literature, in business and academic contexts – the professor explains –. Recently we can say that there has also been an awareness of damages companies can incur from a lack of respect for diversity». The Me Too movement, born in the United States, has focused attention on a delicate issue on which our country, however, is lagging. «We are seeing different speeds in this movement – continues Rossi Lamastra –. The issue of male/female equality is deeply influenced by the culture and goes hand in hand with income, it’s accompanied by greater economic development and a more egalitarian culture based on the entry of women into the workforce».

In addition to gender, diversity management policies also involve other forms of diversity, an increasingly clear sign of our social changes. Or rather, we can say that gender equality isn’t related only to the man/woman relationship but can also touch on other dimensions. Think of LGBTs, for which inclusion policies have in turn become a subject, albeit more recently, of scientific literature. And then there’s the theme of the sum of diversity. Reporting the results of a recruiting test carried out in the United States, Cristina Rossi Lamastra highlights the penalization of women compared to men, but also coloured people compared to whites, leading to coloured women arriving last in rankings of inclusion.

«The problem of diversity management appears to be decidedly complex, as there is no scientific and universally accepted taxonomy for these policies – indicates the Politecnico professor –. But we can say that if you ignore a part of the population, in the case of women half, the relative slice of potential is neglected and the multiplicity of points of view is lost. You lose all the cognitive richness associated with diversity and some studies indicate that this can also lead to an economic loss. By now the scarce presence of women in company management is seen by everyone as a limit, but the problem of discrimination is more serious and urgent in those sectors in which we see it at all levels and not only in management, such as oil & gas, for example, where there’s a clear predominance of men».

But how can a company sensitive to this issue put into practice diversity management policies, which certainly can also benefit its public image? «First, the recruiting process can be improved, focusing on neutral communications and using blind auditions that don’t reveal the gender of candidates, especially in male dominated sectors – concludes Cristina Rossi Lamastra –. New technologies can be useful in this sense».

The issue also impacts Politecnico di Milano and its School of Management, which like most Italian universities, adheres to gender parity principles for university careers and the student population. The most acute problems are seen in areas like mathematics, science and technology, where the presence of women is far below that of men, and forums for discussion and debate have been created to develop mitigating actions.