The challenge is resolving the gendered dynamics of power

10 Jan 2013 16:45 | Armelle Loghmanian

 The challenge is resolving the gendered dynamics of power 

Interview by Alessandra Zocca


Barbara De Micheli

Coordinator of the “Master in Gender Equality and Diversity Management” at FGB learning of Fondazione Brodolini; Senior project manager and trainer

Barbara, what is talent in your opinion?

It is difficult to define; I think talent has a lot to do with “difference”. We are used to defining talent as any natural ability or skill that makes an individual special and gives him or her an original point of view and the power of action in their environment. So, to have talent means, also, to be different from the rest of the group. I also believe that almost everyone has a talent, we just need to find the way to express it.

How important is gender in talent management?

In my opinion gender is crucial in talent management, since gender is a key component of the way we are, we behave, act and re-act in social contexts, including working environments. Talents are gendered and need to been discovered and supported – managed – considering their gender dimension.
There’s the need for a different approach, looking for talent in all its possible expressions and overcoming the assumption that talents are gender neutral, actually having in mind, when we say “neutral”, the stereotype of a white heterosexual man, young and healthy.

In your profession you deal with designing a Masters degree in gender equality & diversity management; how would you define gender equality? And diversity management?

Gender Equality is a wide concept which has to do with human rights (formal equality) and equal opportunities (equality in practice); as such it concerns all human beings and not only women. It also refers to the system of laws, policies, tools and activities aiming to avoid any gender based discrimination and to support equal distribution of opportunities and power among genders.

Diversity management is a quite new management approach which recognizes that individuals express differences (not only in terms of gender but also in terms of cultural background, ethnic background, physical abilities, age) and these differences actually are resources for the organizations (companies or other kind of organization).
Diversity management provides answers to the need to support these diversities, within the organization, to make them feel they are in an inclusive environment and they can express their talent. In a globalised, networked and diverse economy: diversity is a point of strength for the organizations.

Going back to the “Gender Equality and Diversity Management Master”, which are its key objectives?

 The objective of our “Gender Equality and Diversity Management Master” is to train professionals to define and implement concrete diversity management projects in organizations. We help participants to develop a sensitive perception of diversity and to get familiar with the legislative, social, economic and organizational context. 

We also offer them training to develop project planning and project management skills, considering the capacity to conceive and to implement projects as a crucial operational skill.

What should companies learn about gender equality and diversity? And why?

Companies should learn that discrimination is not only unfair, but also expensive. They should also learn that, in order to maintain their competitiveness in a constantly changing economic world, they need the energy and the commitment of all their best talents; companies need to try to avoid the risk (because people usually rely on stereotypes and suffer from discrimination biases) of not making the best choice.

What are nowadays the main obstacles to reaching gender equality and to breaking the glass ceiling?

In my perspective the main obstacles are linked with gender stereotypes, which affect individuals and organizations, and power dynamics.
Greater efforts should be made in investigating how organizations function, how power dynamics take place within the organization and when/where gender based stereotypes block transparent and fair functioning. Of course, since the focus is on power, it is crucial to “lobby and network” in order to “convince” dominant groups to share power.

In this sense women should be able to express a multilevel strategy, changing organizations from the inside, when they reach levels of power, but also promoting the debate around the issue. It looks like things are moving in these directions.

Do you think that family-life work balance is still one of the main barriers to reaching the board for women? Is the family-life work balance becoming more of an issue for younger men?

I think family-life work balance is one of the barriers, but not the most important one to reaching the board. I believe sometimes life work balance is presented as the most important reason in order not to investigate the gendered dynamics of power which lies behind the processes, the machinery and the mechanisms to reach the boards.

In Italy, but also all over Europe, boards are frequented almost exclusively by “over 55” white men (please see the BCE case:
Non transparent rules and pathways to accede boards (cooptation for instance) still favor the maintenance of this prevalence. The result is that many groups, starting from young people, women and men, are left out of the rooms where decisions upon their heads are taken. I think it is a matter of power. Women are still brought to believe that power is negative, but power can be very good, if you know how to use it.

With reference to your second question, yes I think that younger men are understanding and living their role in parenting in a completely different way from their fathers. They want to be more present for their kids and to have more of a balance between work and life-family.

In my family we are trying to be two “prevalent” parents. In jargon the prevalent parent is the one who spends more time with his/her child and who represents the principal point of reference for his/her child. The concept of “prevalent” parent implies that the major reference of children is not necessarily their mother (only because of her maternal instinct), but it can be their father as well.
It is not always easy but kids grow up with less stereotyped roles models, I hope. They see that men and women can do the same kind of things, so they may choose what they want depending on their talents and not following others’ expectations.

What is your personal opinion about the idea of imposing quotas to ensure more women onto boards?

If you were to ask me this question 15 years ago, I would have said I was against. I would have told you that imposing quotas is a way of discriminating and that women do not need to be protected or considered as special target groups since they do have talent, at least as much as men. But then I grew up, I saw: 
  •  Women with talent lose their competition against men with less talent 
  •  Women with talent reaching quite easily middle management positions but never or very rarely appointed to high level positions 
  •  Women with talent with no desire of becoming mothers being sidelined because they employers thought they may decide one day to have children. 

So I changed my mind. Today I believe a positive action such as the introduction of quotas is necessary since there is discrimination and, as Vivian Reading says “spontaneously it isn’t gonna happen”.

What could help women in their struggle to reach the board, Barbara?

I think that the media could play a key role by spreading stories of female role models, who made it to the top and to high positions. I mean, not only the “stars”, but above all female role models that are realistically achievable by other women. 
The media could also ensure that the gender balance topic is in the news in order to keep the public attention on it and they could diffuse the information of how things are progressing, or raise cases of inequality.

Short Biography

Barbara De Micheli is a senior learning facilitator with over 15 years of experience and competences on change management in SMEs, team leading and team building, transnational networking and communication, enterprise start up and mentoring. Since 1997 she has designed and managed EU funded projects focusing on gender equality, labour market dynamics, active aging and lifelong learning innovative approaches.

Employed with Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini since 2010, she managed her own consulting company from 2001 to 2010 working with several public and private clients.
She has two kids aged 6 and 4.

The Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini was established in April 1971 to carry on the social and cultural work started up by the ex-minister of Labour Giacomo Brodolini, who was responsible for the Italian Workers‘ Statute. In over 40 years of activity it has focused on the following issues: research in the fields of economy, sociology and labour law; lifelong learning policies; equal opportunities; local development; industrial relations; history; urban policies. It has a European widespread network of partners all over Europe, two seats in Italy (Rome and Milano), one in Belgium (Brussels) and one in Romania (Bucharest). Since 2010, it is the editor of, web magazine dedicated to understanding economy and policies under a gender perspective. Since March 2012 it promotes the master in Gender Equality and Diversity Management

Contact Details

Barbara De Micheli
Project Manager
Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini 

 Via Barberini 50
 00187 - Roma
Tel. +39 06 89827466
Fax.+39 06 44249565 
 Bld. du Roi Albert II - 5
1210 Bruxelles
Tel. +32 (0)22233055
Fax. +32 (0)22233055

Disclaimer -     
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Fondazione Brodolini, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.  

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software