European Gender Equality Week - Federica Basile
Tell us about yourself
Can you explain a little more about your background? (city/country; training, etc.)
I’m Federica Basile a manager operating in the agricultural sector in the south of Italy.
I was born in Reggio Calabria but moved to Trento, in the north of Italy, to complete my bachelor’s degree in management and Economics and then to Dublin to get an M.Sc. in International Management.
After graduating I moved to the UK to work as an Area Manager for Amazon where I stayed for 3 years and then decided to move back to the South of Italy to work for Fattoria della Piana.
What was your experience at university?
I really enjoyed my years in Trento in an environment that was dynamic and full of opportunities.
What I noticed, however, was that, while the student population was evenly distributed, almost all our professors were men which, for female students, means less inspirational figures that we could have otherwise identified with.
On the contrary, during my year at Trinity College in Dublin, most of our professors were females reinforcing the feeling of diversity and inclusivity that was already strong in our class.
What is your current job position? What do you like about it?
I currently work as an Operation Manager at Fattoria della Piana where, together with my team, we work across all the different sectors of the dairy chain, from the cultivation of the fields to the distribution of the cheese we produce, and we also operate in the renewable energy sector.
I enjoy the possibility to work in a company that is committed to environmental sustainability and having the possibility to make a difference in a sector and territory that is often seen as strongly male-dominated and not very appealing to young people in general.
Gender issues in the agricultural sector
Would you say that agriculture is really a man's world, or do you see more women in this industry as well?
I am convinced agriculture is not a man’s world, I see every day lots of women who are the base of agriculture working to build the future of this sector that is, not only a strategic sector for a lot of countries but also a key sector for our survival as a species.
The reason it is perceived as such is probably that, the work these women do is often done in silence, attributed even by themselves to the men around them who take the credit for it both on a reputation and financial level.
The role of women in agriculture has to shift from a support role to roles of responsibility where we can become decision-makers and access resources that have been, so far, a male prerogative and in order for this change to happen, we need to become more aware, aware of the work we do, of the potential we have and of all the other women who do this work alongside us.
Do you feel that your career would have been different if you were a man?
Here in Fattoria della Piana our team, composed of more than 120 people, is quite gender-balanced, with more than 40% of female employees, several of which occupying key positions, at no point here, or in my previous workplace, I have felt like I was precluded opportunities because of my being a woman.
I feel, however, that often, when interacting with people outside this organization, I need to work harder to prove my competencies compared to the men who work alongside me. I fear that this will particularly make a difference for me if, in the future, I’ll decide to build a family, in the South of Italy the access to childcare is very lacking and a lot of women have to give up on their professional ambitions as it is not economically convenient for them to continue working while raising their children.
Can you mention some of the gender equality measures your organisation has in place, which do you think is the best / most efficient?
In recent years we started working with high schools to introduce internship programs so that, starting from an early age, we can help them understand that agriculture is different from what it used to be, that is now a sector where technology and innovation are key aspects of agriculture. We try to choose mostly female students so we can show them that it is a sector where they can thrive and make a difference before they get driven away by prejudices.
What could they do as a next step? What should agricultural organisations do better?
I think it’s important to work on communication, on how agriculture has the chance to shape a more sustainable future from both an environmental and social point of view. We need to make the most of the resources and unique circumstances that this particular time in history offers to drive people back to agriculture offering work environments that are inclusive, flexible and enjoyable. Part of the opportunities that will arrive through the recovery fund should be used to implement measure for corporate welfare that helps all employees to thrive in their careers as well as in their personal lives.
New technologies and gender
Which opportunities do new technologies offer you?
New technologies in agriculture are key to reducing the physical strength required in the sector, allowing us to create jobs that are more sustainable and safer for our employees. Automated milking as well as the use of self-driving tractors are only a couple of examples of how agriculture is changing towards needing a completely different set of skills and offering different safer and more engaging work opportunities.
Could these new technologies help close the gender gap? How?
Jobs in agriculture used to require a lot of physical strength, long hours and were often risky for the health of the farmers. Technology has changed the requirements and skillsets to have a successful career in this field, continuing in this trajectory will allow more women to become key players in this sector.
Your message and advice
What would you like to say to the decision-makers?
For change to happen world/EU wide initiatives are important but cannot replace region-specific policies, while the gender gap might be an element that is common in different countries the barriers will, at least partially, differ. Technology is helping in reducing the gap, specifically in agriculture, and it should therefore be promoted and financial policies to encourage the technological upgrade are key, however without addressing the structural barriers that prevent women from being successful in the work environment the success of sector-specific initiatives will be limited. A necessary cultural shift on the role of women in society and the workplace, together with access to affordable and aligned with working hours childcare, are requirements to eliminate the gender gap, at least here in the South of Italy.
What advice would you give to any young person starting to build a career similar to yours today?
To focus on their development rather than the people around them, it’s important not to let other people prejudices or expectations influence our choices and actions but also not to compete with others and instead to focus on building our career and our skillset.
To be resilient and confident, we need to be more aware of our own capability, of the impact we have on others and of how by making seemingly difficult choices in our everyday life we are building a more inclusive future for ourselves and the generations to come.
Last but not least have fun doing what you do, if you do, and are also willing to work hard at it, paraphrasing the motto of my previous employer, you will definitely end up making history!