After another round of local elections, nothing has changed in the gender distribution of political power in Italy. The imbalance between local executives led by men and those led by women has even increased. The situation is bad in the largest voting municipalities, but also in the rest of Italy, where little more than one mayor in ten is a woman. Not to mention the regions, where Donatella Tesei, President of Umbria, sits among nineteen male colleagues.
Why is the gender imbalance still so great 75 years after women entered politics? We really have to ask ourselves this question, because the few steps forward so far only concern assembly bodies. With great difficulty, we got to a point where less than one in four parliamentarians and 40% of municipal councils is made up of women. Not in the regions, however, where legislative autonomy means that quotas are still circumvented.
Monocratic positions and the national executive remain firmly in the hands of men. On the other hand, the selection of leaders is made by the parties, and in Italy there is only one party with a woman leader, that of Giorgia Meloni. In the PD, in the M5S and elsewhere, not a single leader is currently a woman. Women are put at the head of electoral lists, where their election can be easily conditioned by preferences or multiple candidacies, but not in key positions of power, Draghi's government and COVID management committees docent.
Women (not) interested in politics
Do women not care about politics? In a survey carried out in 2019 with EMG Acqua, we asked 1,000 Italian men and women why women's political careers are so difficult. Respondents categorically ruled out disinterest, pointing to another important fact: machismo and camaraderie in politics would count as much as family workload in deterring women.
Far more than in the economy or education, where the World Bank's equality index predicts that women will reach full equality in a few decades, the road to full equality in politics would be well over a century. According to the leading scholars of the phenomenon, a key issue is a conception of power still based on a logic of quid pro quo, foreign to the way of thinking prevailing among women, culturally based on caring for people and the environment that surrounds them. Focused on solidarity before earning money, and not part of the relentless struggle of politicians to protect their acquired positions.
But are we sure that this conception of political power is the one that best serves the interests of citizens? Due to a lack of empirical cases, studies on the effectiveness of female-led executives have barely begun. It was discussed during the COVID period until some scientists pointed out that the measurable sample of women leaders managing the health crisis was so small as to be statistically insignificant. The same applies to Italian mayors. The few studies that do exist abroad, however, reveal important differences in leadership styles and political choices, with repercussions also in terms of collective well-being.
A laboratory for equality aimed at male politicians
While diversity has become an economic value in companies and the Next Generation EU plan has made equality one of the three cross-cutting objectives of crisis recovery, politicians seem either not to believe in its potential, including electoral potential, or not to know how to act to promote it.
A project on inclusive leadership that we are pursuing at the School of Transnational Governance of the European University Institute has a double objective. We want to make the reasons that inhibit women's political careers explicit to European politicians and at the same time provide them with the tools to appreciate and foster equality. A laboratory for equality in politics focused not so much on women, who - let's face it - do not lack the cognitive tools, but on the so-called "gatekeepers". Let us hope that the current Italian administrative elections are just a stumbling block on the road to equality.