5 questions for Professor Giorgia Giovannetti, Vice-Rector for International Relations at the University of Florence

03/08/2023 | by Eva Laurie | European Universities Gender Equality Staff

On the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day, we ask Professor Giorgia Giovannetti, Vice-Rector for International Relations and Professor of Economics at the University of Florence 5 questions about economy, equality and well-being.

A portrait of Prof. Giorgia Giovannetti.
Prof. Giorgia Giovannetti.

Women are crucial to the green and digital transformation of the economy - as entrepreneurs, as business owners, in leadership positions and as professionals. Their know-how, experience, creativity and resourcefulness are indispensable for global development. As decision-makers, they help shape the future. To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we therefore asked Professor Giorgia Giovannetti, Vice-Rector for International Relations and Professor of Economics at the University of Florence, about her views and experiences on how women's well-being relates to the economy and what women in leadership positions and especially in higher education can contribute to a world with more well-being.

1. Professor Giovannetti, you are a professor of economics at the University of Florence. Based on your expertise, how does women’s well-being relate to the economy?

Women’s well-being is closely related to the economy from different points of view. Think of how the organisation of work itself has been changing in the past few years, how people organise their time differently between work and life, work and leisure. Some countries recently decreased the days of work from five to four, others decreased the number of hours of work a week/day: work and the concept of well-being at work are changing rapidly. This is strongly connected to the issue of how to combine smart work (which became a necessity during the pandemic) with work in the office. And women are better at balancing time allocation and this is starting to be recognised. However, we are still in a period of transition, the process regarding the new organisation of work has started but not yet been finalised. As such, it is stressful, especially for women, that find themselves on the one hand carrying out traditional tasks (e.g. caring responsibilities) and on the other hand having to cope with the new challenge of smart working and working from home. This is certainly an opportunity for women and eventually will help to close the gender gap as well as the wage gap, but more than this, it is an opportunity to design new forms of work, enhancing well-being at the societal level, from which women have more to gain to close the gaps. 

Let me briefly mention also the struggle of balancing caring responsibilities (which usually fall totally on women) with work, and the lack of value placed on care roles, often not recognised and certainly under- or even unpaid. Changes in the way of working should also improve these tasks and responsibilities.  All of this results in the fact, highlighted by recent economic studies, that  gender equality has strong, positive impacts on growth of per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To provide some evidence, recent estimates from the world bank show that by 2050, improving gender equality could lead to an increase in GDP per capita in the EU of more than 6.1 % - a huge amount! But to date, as I mentioned above, we are in a transition phase and  despite some progress, the new model of work is not well assessed and the gaps in labour force participation between men and women remain large: no advanced or middle-income economy has reduced the gender gap below 7 percentage points.

2. EUniWell deals with the broad theme of well-being on a European level. What has to change in Europe so that women can fully develop and use their potential, and participate equally in economic life?

Labour market relationships are changing, as I mentioned above, and women play a leading role in these changes. This is particularly true in Europe where their new role has to be recognised. I also mentioned that the uneven playing field between women and men comes at a significant economic cost as it constitutes an obstacle to growth (and also hampers productivity). At the European level there is an increasing awareness of these issues  and  existing barriers to women entering the labour force, especially discrimination, and social and cultural factors, should be lifted. Cultural factors are particularly important. Women should be given equal chances to “lead” and to be role models for younger ones. Policymakers should focus on removing cultural barriers as soon as possible and of course reduce other types of barriers as well. To recognise that women and men can bring different skills and perspectives to the workplace, including different attitudes to risk and collaboration could already be a step forward. It is not a question of “favouring” women now, but of giving them the same chances.

3. Do you see opportunities for higher education and more specifically for European University Alliances to support this?

Yes indeed, I see many opportunities here. First, we have to care about the message we pass on as educators and second about how we organise work in the Universities (and in the Alliances). Universities should lead the discussion on time allocation and the new organisation of the labour market. Universities are important employers and our students should see how we have become better at handling the issue! European University Alliances (and higher education in general) have the responsibility of making people aware of these themes while at the same time providing an example. We need to pass on the message that independent minded workers are the ones that will make the difference, no matter if they are women or men. We should bring about a culture of equal opportunities (which by the way should also apply to minorities, youth, etc). We should “act” to “see” the difference.

4. Women are highly qualified, they create new products, services, jobs and apprenticeships. Yet men are still predominant in leadership positions. You are Vice-Rector of your university and part of the EUniWell Board. As a female leader, how do you think more women can occupy these key positions and how can women like you, who have already done it, serve as trailblazers for others?

We know already that the unequal playing field between women and men has substantial economic costs and can lower well-being (and GDP). What we are now learning is that when we account for time allocation and the role of women, the value of properly empowering women is even larger. By highlighting the costs, we may end up convincing more people that it is worth investing in equality! Now that we see the full picture, the case for greater gender equity has indeed become even more compelling. Women can and should certainly occupy key positions, they are perfectly able to “lead”, often even better than men (even though it is unfair and difficult to generalise!). I do not see any problem. One thing that I would like to point out is that in leadership (if not in wage equality or equality of opportunities) some steps have been done in the past few years. Between my generation, where women in leadership positions were few, and the generation of my daughter, a lot of things have changed. I have the impression that what for us was an achievement is totally normal for younger generations. When women lead, they bring in new dimensions. People have recently started realising this!

5. In a world still marked by inequalities, how do you maintain your own well-being and are there any tips you might share with the younger generation?

I love my job, I believe that being in touch with young generations is key. Teaching and being in contact with students allows me to keep an eye on what they think, how they behave and to explain my points of view and my values and possibly to share these values. Even if I am under pressure (and often I am), I believe that I can manage my well-being. My children are now out of the house (it was more difficult when they were kids, but I always gave them quality time if not quantity time…) and this makes it easier to cope with many tasks. I feel I can manage fairly well and I am certainly more aware of the trade-offs of pushing myself too far!

As far as tips for younger generations are concerned, I always tell my students (as well as my younger colleagues) to choose a profession that they are passionate about. Only in this way, if they are truly enthusiastic about what they do, they can convince the people they work with that they are worth investing in. The idea is that you have to work your whole life, so better have fun while doing it, better be interested, better not regret the time spent working. It is also very important to be honest and explicit about what you want and feel. If you want things to change, you have to actively address it and talk about it. 


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