She’s part of the brain drain but not really

by Beatrice Credi - 2017.05.29
She’s part of the brain drain but not really
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On the Internet, I got the idea that I would have met one of those women who know what they are on about.  Indeed, this was confirmed, when on a rare warm day in Brussels, I found myself having a head-to-head with Valeria Ronzitti, General Secretary of CEEP. During our meeting, that took place during the “noisy” arrival in the city by Donald Trump, we pretended that nothing was going on and spoke about something completely different.

Question: Valeria, could you explain to West readers what the organisation of which you are General Secretary is and what is does?

Answer: The CEEP represents European employers and businesses that provide public services of general interest in sectors such as health, education, the environment, transport, water and energy. However, as I am aware of the issues covered by your magazine, I would like to draw attention to a very new project co-financed by the  European Commission in partnership with ETUC (the confederation of European unions) and Eurochambres (the European chambers of commerce) called  LABOUR INT. It has a very ambitious goal: the integration of refugees in the job market. Employers in the public service sector play a fundamental role in offering work to asylum seekers and helping them to integrate in society. Since demographic ageing also affects public services, the arrival of these homines novi is an important opportunity to supplement staff in the sectors that are most in crisis. I don't know if it just a coincidence or if Italians are very sensitive to these difficult problems. In fact, there are three Italians at the head of the organisations: Luca Visentini, Arnaldo Abruzzini and myself.

Question: Thinking about Italians, how did you end up in Brussels?

Answer: I am the classic case of someone caught in the Brussels net. I came to Brussels in 2003 for a three-month internship, am still here, and have even started a family. The truth of the matter was that living abroad was not a foreign experience to me as I had spent the last year and a half of high school in France. With my good French, I had little trouble in establishing myself in the city.

Question: Do you consider yourself part of the brain drain?

Answer: Yes and no. I was not interested in escaping, but in having a short experience, a break that was intellectually stimulating before starting my Master's degree. I joined CEEP and never left. Here I had opportunities that would have been hard to find so quickly in Italy and things just came together. From the temporary replacement of a colleague, who never came back, I came to be involved in social and macro-economic strategies, becoming Director and then General Secretary. Even if destiny was clearly on my side, I would like to point out that, in contrast to what you often hear in Italy, that internships are important and can be a crucial professional springboard.

Question: Do you feel that you taken wealth and resources away from Italy by working abroad for years?

Answer: To tell the truth the Italian community in Brussels is now made up of many young people who return. What does “take” mean? It then depends on how the country makes the most of this wealth, that is an opportunity, how it is able to take up trained employees with different experiences. Unfortunately, when I attend meetings in Italy, there is still a complete lack of understanding of what is done in Brussels for our country. Europe is always seen as something that has to be suffered and not as an opportunity to exploit. I say this with a little regret. Particularly when I hear someone who continues to ask but who is Brussels? Brussels is all of us

Question: What is missing to tempt you back?

Answer: Work life balance strategies. I am married to an Italian, our children were born there but they are Italian, our home is Italian: television, language and culture. We asked ourselves certain questions that we didn't ask when we were just on our own. Do we really want our children to grow up there? In Italy, there is little awareness that all these aspects contribute to what is still potentially a rich country, but family support is missing. I met a really important woman at the head of an equally important organisation in Italy. Speaking about our experiences she said, just as well grandparents exist. I think it's a serious statement. In a position of responsibility you should fight to ensure that there are services so that a woman, through a "protection network" (not that of grandparents), even if at the top of the hierarchy can work without having to look at the clock all the time. As far as I am concerned, I can say with certainty that what I am doing here would not have been easy in another place.  I had to send my children to nursery when they were 6 and 5 months respectively. Without forgetting to mention the not insignificant support of being able to call upon paramedic personnel directly at home when they are ill. When I talk about this in Italy, do you know what I hear: “but do you trust them?” If you don't trust the services what are they there for?

Question: Woman, mother and top manager. Are there many like you at CEEP?

Answer: Many more than a few years ago thanks to the quotas. However, being on the board of directors does not necessarily mean "being a boss", for example; you could be president of a company without having any role. I am personally against this. I have never felt that I was discriminated against in my career as a woman. This also depends on the working environment that exists in Brussels. The infrastructure surrounding me has ensured that this never made the difference even during my two pregnancies. I have never had problems, so much so that I have always thought that they are making it all up.  Unfortunately, when I meet other Italians I get the feeling again that there really is a gender balance problem. We will see at the end of the period for the quotas fixed by law introduced by Golfo-Mosca, if they have contributed to a change in corporate cultural or if it was all just on paper.

Question: You come into contact with many businesses. Thinking about services for families, what do you think about those inside companies such as corporate nursery schools?

Answer: For now, we are just talking about large companies. I am convinced that it's not up to the company to offer this type of service. Public infrastructure is what should be changed; it's a State obligation that should not be delegated to a private entity. The company that has a nursery is providing for something that doesn't exist. We are not particularly in favour of these practices; they are worthy but should not become the rule and absolve the State from its shortcomings.

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