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In Italy, female editor signals women's rise

Women journalists are setting a precedent for Italian women in the workplace. But low female employment remains a problem.

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"Journalism is the one field where we will soon reach gender equality," says Franco Abruzzo, a professor at the Carlo de Martino Institute for Education in Journalism in Milan.

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He adds that 45 percent of professional journalists in Milan are women and that the percentage is expected to grow as 50 percent of young apprentices are female. "My female students are studying the most and working harder," he says.

Italy's track record for female employment in the media resembles that of other European countries. In Britain, Rosie Boycott was appointed editor of The Independent in 1998. Currently, two major British papers, The Sun and Daily Star, are headed by women. And while none of the major newspapers in Spain have female editors in chief, El Mundo and El Paìs have female deputy editors.

Victims of cronyism

But other indicators of gender equity in the workplace are mixed. Until recently, Italy scored low on women's participation in politics. But the parliament doubled its percentage of female lawmakers in six years, from 9.8 percent in 2002 to 21.1 percent today. This is in line with the Western European average and was facilitated by the conservative government in 2004, which introduced mandatory quotas for women in the electoral lists.

Still, overall female employment remains low compared to elsewhere in Europe. Only 45.1 percent of Italian women work outside their home, according to figures released in 2006 by Eurispes, a nonprofit research organization. This is in contrast with Spain and France, where the average is above 50 percent, and Denmark and Sweden, where over 70 percent of women are employed. Only 2 percent of executive positions are held by women in Italian companies, according to a study published in May by La Repubblica newspaper.

Ms. Mazzone believes the lack of women in the workforce has less to do with culture than the Italian economic system, which is rife with corruption and cronyism. About 40 percent of Italian workers say they got their job through nepotism or connections, according to a 2007 poll. Mazzone suggests that women are penalized by a system that overlooks merit, as 98 percent of executives are men. "Here people don't care how hard you work," she argues. "[If] you hire and promote people because they are your buddies, of course you choose the boys."

Lisa Abend contributed from Spain.