British companies are turning to the continent to explore new approaches to
equal opportunities, and Italy was the unlikely venue for their latest meeting.
The Italians, stereotypically known for their macho male-dominated culture, played
host to companies in a two-day conference, which is part of a three-year
project to encourage equal opportunities in Europe.
Working in partnership under the EQUAL project banner, companies from the UK
and Italy hope to launch a shared mentoring scheme and training programme for
workers in the two countries.
As part of the conference, delegates from companies including BMW (GB) and
Scottish Enterprise Lanarkshire visited the Fiat car factory in Malfi to meet
female workers and discuss gender imbalance issues in the transport industry.
Fiat employs more women in its factories than comparable set-ups in the UK,
with more than one in five female staff.
The car manufacturer offers two hours paid leave a week to breast-feeding
working mothers, and encourages family-friendly daytime shifts.
It also offers staff a dedicated Learning Centre to promote career
development and personal study in topics such as IT skills, English language
and the European driving licence.
The centre has assisted 3,500 employees so far, and Fiat believes it plays a
major factor in staff retention.
Glyn Williams, head of strategic development at the NTP training
organisation and lead partner in the project, said the conference was organised
with a view to making real changes across Europe.
"As a result of this visit, we have already been able to pass on some
of the research techniques being used in the motor trade in the UK, while
gleaning new ideas from them," he said.
By Michael Millar