Gender Gap, Diversity and Inclusion: The Case of Doctors Without Borders

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A report by the Rome Business School

In their most recent study, our colleagues at the Rome Business School explored all-pressing questions about gender inequality and the importance of diversity and inclusion at the workplace. The report was conducted in collaboration with the international NGO, Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The research was conducted by Maria Luisa Garofalo, Talent Acquisition & Development Coordinator at MSF Italy and Prof. Valerio Mancini, Director of the RBS Research Center.

In Italy, there are more female graduates (58.7 %) than men (41.3 %). However – and this is true of other countries as well – once women enter the labour market, many do so on a part-time basis: 49 % of women work part-time compared to 26.2 % in the case of men (Inapp, 2022). Women in Italy just like elsewhere face various obstacles at the workplace: stereotyping, discrimination, and the difficulty of reconciling work and personal/family life, particularly after the pandemic.

In Italy, 24.9 % of college graduates (aged 25 to 34) have a STEM degree. However, these graduates are predominantly men. Given the demand for digital professions, which include robotics engineers, data scientists and cloud architects, it’s important and alarming that, in Italy, only 12 % of cloud computing professionals are women, while women account for 15 % of data analysts and 26 % of artificial intelligence professionals (Rome Business School, ER 2022).

According to the E-Work Observatory (2018), women Italian workers have at an average a salary 27.8 % lower than their male colleagues, with an hourly wage of 15.2 euros compared to 16.2 euros for men (Istat, 2022). Moreover, only one-third of women between the ages of 15 and 64 are employed, and the World Economic Forum (2021) puts Italy in third place, only after Greece and Costa Rica, in the unemployment rankings for young women.

Women as the key to economic recovery

Giving women more opportunities to work not only supports their empowerment but also strongly affects the world economy. There are multiple institutions that affirm this: for the Harvard Business Review (2022), a gender balance would enable $28 trillion of global GDP by 2025; for the European Institute for Gender Equality (2022), an increased focus on gender equality could see an increase, globally, of 10 million new jobs more sustainable economic growth estimated at 75 percent; according to the European Institute for Gender Equality, greater gender equality would lead to an increase in GDP per capita in the European Union from 6.1 percent to 9.6 percent by 2050; and the International Monetary Fund adds that making use of women in strategic positions would enable the economy to grow by 35 percent globally.

Italy is growing in the number of women at the top: last year, CEO positions held by women increased from 18 % to 20 % (Women in Business 2022), although there was a global decrease in women CEOs (-2 percent). However, the gap remains high: Italy ranks 63rd in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, where Iceland, Finland and Norway are at the top, with a pay gap that stands at around 5.6 percent.

The importance of women workers: the work of Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan

In Italy, MSF has set specific goals in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) issues. These goals aim: to develop a more inclusive and aware culture; to define and implement policies and procedures aimed at preventing discrimination or injustice; and to further increase ethnic-cultural diversity at all levels of the organisation, focusing especially on training, sharing, and mobility. Today, MSF Italy has a management team composed of more than 50 % female figures and at its head, as president, is Dr Monica Minardi.

Women are the protagonists of the third sector in Italy: compared to about ninety thousand men, there are about two hundred thousand women in the sector. MSF recognises their essential contribution especially in missions, particularly in countries where MSF could not work if not through the employment of female staff.

Women, according to Maria Luisa Garofalo, “are an indispensable resource without whom the organisation could not reach some types of patients, including women and children. The perspectives and experiences women bring are invaluable in addressing the complex challenges that arise in contexts of war, crisis or natural disasters.”

An example of how women’s involvement is crucial for MSF can be witnesses from looking at their work in Afghanistan where, for cultural and religious reasons, it is very difficult to allow doctor-patient relationships between individuals of different genders. In its 7 projects on Afghan soil, MSF provides health care covering areas ranging from gynecology, pediatrics, emergency and vaccination, employing a medical team of 51 percent women. Their presence is essential because, particularly since the Taliban’s return to power, Afghan women can only be treated by other women. The absence of female staff in MSF’s team would leave women completely excluded from access to the care offered by the organisation.

Not only that, the current requirement for Afghan women to go out accompanied by a male relative to escort them limits their ability to reach a hospital when no male relative is available to accompany them, or when a trip, already difficult for a single person to sustain, becomes unaffordable to sustain financially. This is compounded by the ban that prevents girls from attending high school and college, participating in social life and working with NGOs, leaving Afghan women increasingly isolated and vulnerable.

Toward closing the gender gap

According to the report’s authors, “policies need to be implemented to support women’s leadership, equal pay, work flexibility, maternity support, smartworking, ensure work-life balance, and actively involve them in decision-making processes without discrimination or segregation,” making use first and foremost of the 40 million allocated by the NRP for women’s employment. It is necessary “to make room for women in the top echelons of business, close the hiring gap in newly emerging professions, and develop a strategy by companies aimed at inclusion and supported by specific action plans that put women at the center, enhancing their professionalism and ensuring their equal treatment in both career and salary spheres,” they conclude.

The case study of MSF shows how EDI issues are of global interest and application, and that the support and inclusion of women in the third sector is critical to ensuring an effective humanitarian response itself.

“Women bring unique skills and perspectives and are often the only ones who can fulfill certain roles,” says MSF’s Maria Luisa Garofalo. “There is a great need to work to eliminate gender discrimination and violence, promote women’s education and career development, and provide support for women’s leadership initiatives.”

You can find out more about the report and the work conducted at the Rome Business School research centre here.

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