An Italian engineering firm is dealing with a downturn in sales in a way that is creative, albeit totally inappropriate. Faced with the need to downsize, the family-owned company, which manufactures electric fans and blowers for air conditioning and heating equipment, decided to fire 13 of its female employees, leaving a staff of 12 men and 5 women. The only people who were fired were women between the ages of 30 and 40. The company, with disturbing honesty, explained its decision thusly:
“We are firing the women so they can stay at home and look after the children. In any case, what they bring in is a second income.”
According to the Guardian, an Italian union called a strike in response to the sexist firings. But only one male employee attended.
The decision – and the fact that the company’s male employees seemed not to find it outrageous – are both reflective of the status of Italian women, a subject which has been debated recently in light of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s alleged penchant for underage girls.
“In this country, at the government and company level, there is always the same old thinking – that it is preferable that women stay at home,” explained Maria Sciancati of the engineering union. These norms are reflected in Italy’s low rate of female employment.
This action seems absurdly blatant though, even for Italy. And it brings up the ugly truth which people in the U.S. prefer to express less bluntly: women are devalued as workers. As Anna North writes for Jezebel, “Though economic reality has made dual incomes a necessity for many, plenty of Americans still hold this view.” So perhaps this Italian controversy can also provide us with the opportunity to think about how all women, not just Italian women, can be seen as equal to their male peers in every workplace.
Photo from Andrea Guerra’s Flickr photostream.