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Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace in Italy

Diversity has never been such a hot topic as it is now in the shadows of the great 'migration' debate manifested in the now historical BREXIT vote. Today's debate is largely tied to the recent surge of refugees fleeing war zones and economic migrants – however, it is a subject which has been decades, if not centuries, in the making.

The Population Division of the United Nations revealed in its 2015 International Migration report that Italy ranks in 3rd place in terms of the largest growing immigration populations in the world (out of the 50 most populous countries). In more detail the population of foreign born residents in Italy in 1990 was 2.5% and in 2015 it was 9.7% – representing a 7.2% increase. ( ISTAT – the Italian National Institute of Statistics on the other hand has calculated that the 'foreign born' population in Italy on January 1st, 2016 was 8.3%).

Interestingly enough, the United Nations report ranked the UK, below Italy, in 4th place with a 6.8% immigration growth rate (6.4% in 1990 vs 13.2% in 2015) and the US in 6th place with a 5.3% immigration growth rate (9.2% in 1990 vs 14.5% in 2015).

Obviously this gradual change in the demographic landscape of the peninsula has over time been reflected in the Italian workforce population. However, one must note that although Italy has had a faster rate of immigration growth the overall 'foreign', hence diverse, population is lower than those of its Anglo-Saxon counterparts ( 9.7% in Italy vs 13.2% in the UK and 14.5% in the US) – which may be one of the reasons that Italian employers have been a bit slow on the uptake of corporate / company wide diversity policies… but this is beginning to change.

Today 'diversity' does not just mean 'foreign' – instead it reflects a much wider spectrum of the population in terms of sexual identity and preference, religion, age, physical abilities, gender and so much more.

In Italy, the Charter for Equal Opportunities and Equality at Work was launched on October 5th, 2009 (following on the success of similar initiatives in France and Germany) with the aim of spreading an inclusive business culture and human resource policies which are free from discrimination and prejudice and which will enrich the talents of a diverse workforce.

The actual law which protects employees from discrimination in the workplace in Italy is Legislative Decree No.216 of July 9th, 2003 – which is the execution of EU Directive 2000/78/CE. Article 1 of this law states:

This decree contains the provisions relating to the implementation of the equal 'treatment of persons irrespective of religion, beliefs, disability, age, and sexual orientation, in terms of employment and working conditions, providing the necessary measures so that these factors are not the cause of discrimination, a view that takes into account the different impact that the same forms of discrimination can have on women and men.

The Italian government has not stopped there though in terms of their quest to promote diversity in the workplace – they have also over the years created incentives for businesses to open their doors to a wider demographic of employee through the use of financial incentives.

For example Italian Legislative Decree 151 of 2015 provided provisions for the creation of financial incentives for businesses to hire disabled workers starting from January 1st, 2016. One, of many, hypothetical situations here would be if an employer hired a worker with a mental or intellectual disability resulting in a 45+% reduction in the capacity to work – then the employer would receive an incentive of 70% of the monthly gross taxable income for social security for a 5 year period.

The Italian Stability Law of 2016 (Italian Law No. 208 of December 28, 2015) also provides numerous incentives for Italian businesses to hire a more diverse workforce – for example women who have been unemployed for over 2 years (hired on a fixed term contract could merit an employer tax relief of 50% on INPS and INAIL contributions for up to 12 months), Youth (Euro 6,000 for hiring a young worker on a full time contract), Young Parents under 35 (Euro 5000 per worker) and those Over 50 who have been unemployed for over a year (tax relief of 50% on INPS and INAIL contributions for up to 18 months).

But beyond the law and financial incentives – employers should embrace inclusion and diversity in order to create a dynamic and stimulated workforce which also better reflects their local communities. It is not particularly something which happens naturally or organically – instead it is achieved through vision and set goals, in addition to the training and education of the workforce from the top levels of management down to the shop floor.

For some work is just a job – but for many it also often becomes an integral part of their daily social lives. If businesses can create a united community of workers with different backgrounds and beliefs – just imagine the social change towards inclusion that they may effect in society. It would be true Corporate Social Responsibility.

Diversity: The Art of Thinking Independently Together
- Malcolm Forbes