Smart working is a woman. Let’s prepare the second phase together

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By Paola Pica and Rita Querzè

“But what privilege? For almost a year now I have been fighting the clutter in a small house, the washing machine, the kitchen three times a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Managing two teenage children, my ex-husband lives in another city. And, excuse me, put in the pay cut because overtime is no longer recognized and neither are meal vouchers ”. Marina, 52, from Bergamo, is in charge of organization and accounting for a construction company. It seems a century ago when you closed the door behind you to go to the office in the upper city. Suddenly, fear, coffins, and a word never heard before, smart working. At the time it sounded like a great hope.

More or less from last March 9, in the aftermath of a mocking feast of women and the conventional date of the beginning of a crisis that has hit hardest on the work of one half of the sky, Marina is organized like this: cell phone at her expense, paper diary, old company pc to switch off and on again every tot, kitchen-living room-bedroom table to be cleared at alternating times. The other room of the two-room apartment owned, mortgage almost extinguished, is for the children, both boys, both enrolled in the technical institute. There is no mention of returning, the owner is cutting costs to avoid the worst and Marina now regrets the outburst and feels guilty because Daniela, her young colleague, with a small girl and a fixed-term contract, “is been fired “. Contributing, precisely in December, to that frightening 99% of female unemployment certified by Istat. The block on layoffs, for thirty-year-olds like Daniela, has already jumped. Or there never was.

Here is the other side of what we call agile work: a push that drives women back home, with or without their employment, with or without salary. We will not insist here on what can happen to wives and mothers lacking financial autonomy when the home is a place of mistreatment. We limit ourselves to recalling what, among other institutions, the OECD has repeatedly repeated, namely that the unpaid care work of Italian women is one of the highest in Europe. It has been since before the pandemic. In 2019, in Italy, 70% of the hours of free work at home were carried out by women. And under the pressure of Covid, the free responsibilities have expanded to the distance teaching of children. A task for which many declare they feel inadequate and that delves into inequalities. Smart working is not the same for everyone.

Smart working is not the same for everyone

In an emergency, and throughout the first phase of the pandemic, the response was extraordinary, no doubt. The companies themselves have experienced unexpected productivity spikes. But then at the dress rehearsal, and especially in small and medium-sized companies, adequate training plans for remote work are not always followed. And best practices also stayed where they started. The advertisements with the mirage of exotic south working (from the Caribbean to Dubai with a sea view, and various Covid variants, offering income from 100 thousand euros upwards), the Italian professionals, in this not too different from employees and secretaries, do the math with smatrt working that “disconciles”. They are divided between the call and the ragù, undergoing the invasion of zoom and technology in private life. According to the data collected by the Catholic University of Milan, anxiety disorders are increasing and general health is worsening, while in terms of productivity, women’s performance is at risk. “In the university sphere, and not only in Italy, we are beginning to notice how in the last year female researchers have been less productive than men as regards the number of academic publications – explains the sociologist of labor Ivana Pais -. And this is most likely linked to the fact that women, even those belonging to medium-high social groups, have taken on the care work ”.

Space and time

Agrees Martina, 41, a pharma researcher in Padua. “Remotely I have not been able to dedicate myself with the same intensity and I am not the only one. For us the “workplace” is the laboratory, irreplaceable for research. Even if you can also write from home. The only real advantage that should not be underestimated is the reduction in commuting time and costs. I live in the countryside and I have to come to the workshop by train or by car. The ideal is to be able to choose the days in presence “.

To push for smart working (the real one, understood as agile, for objectives) it was women. The first bill was presented in 2014 by a “tripartisan” group composed of Alessia Mosca, Barbara Saltamartini, Irene Tinagli. In the same year, the municipality of Milan promoted the first day of agile work wanted by the then councilor Chiara Bisconti. Today Bisconti, returned to private, has not changed her mind. “We women have questioned a model of work organization based on rigid schedules, designed by men and for men”. But what if the freed up time – the time we used to get to and from the office before – is used to scrub the floors? “Of course, during the pandemic we went crazy. But this is not smart working, it is teleworking to the bitter end. The solution is not to go all back to the office but to get men to take on 50% of the free housework. As it already happens, it is always worth remembering in the countries of Northern Europe ”. Not only should domestic work be divided equally, the same thing should also be done for smart working hours. Indeed, before the pandemic, the share of smart workers was equal to: 1.5% of women and 1.4% of men.

The health emergency has blown this balance. As a Bank of Italy survey points out, it was mainly women who returned home. Smart workers became 16.9% (plus 15.4%) while men stopped at 12.8% (plus 11.4%). Elisa, 45, a spacious apartment in the capital, in the Monteverde district, fast connection and a sufficient number of PCs and tablets for her entrepreneur husband (“collaborative”) and two children between middle and high school. At home there is really nothing wrong with it, quite the contrary. Elisa is even one with the “room for herself” in the words of Virginia Woolf, the extra local area, the studio. It was a pioneer of smart working, she believed in it and always promoted it. She is surprised herself that she can’t wait to go back to the bank, to carry out the work (“that I love”) as a financial analyst in the presence and maybe be able to get that promotion (perhaps) only frozen by Covid. “The feeling of not belonging to a team makes me suffer and I begin to fear that if we do not return quickly there will be the temptation to dismantle everything”.

Barbara Cottini, director of human resources at Gi group, an Italian multinational in administration and training, is right. “Agile work isn’t just remote, solo work. It is smart when it is also made up of a time and a community space where talents and thoughts can be born and cultivated. Then we need self-managing tools: we must become the managers of ourselves and free ourselves in responsibility and autonomy. It is not a path that is created in one day, we left on time. Realizing, for example, that a lot of support was needed for mothers in the lockdown. We have provided a psychologist and training sessions on parenting with lots of practical advice. From how to manage the time of homebound children to how to talk about the pandemic. The offices have reopened but we are making sure that the management of work and private time remains agile ”. A balance will have to be found if it is true that, after the storm, even the work will have changed forever.

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