Personal & Professional Wisdom

Juggling work-life balance as a mum in localization: A homemade Italian recipe

Take a young Italian mum, add passion for the translation industry, season with a pinch of freshly ground career move, toss a global pandemic into the mix and you will have Giada, a strong woman in localization who has been juggling work-life balance after the birth of her first child, right in the middle of a job change and a global pandemic.

But let’s take a step back to look at the big picture.

In a country characterised by the long-lasting cultural dominance of the male breadwinner model and bland measures by the welfare state, childcare in Italy continues to be regarded as something that mothers need to sort out in the private sphere.

The good news? Italy is progressing towards gender equality at a fast pace, and its Gender Equality Index rank improved by 12 places between 2005 and 2017.

The bad news? Despite a policy shift defining childcare as a parental, i.e. not a maternal-only responsibility, the gender gap for care activities remains one of the widest in Europe, according to the latest report published by the European Institute for Gender Equality.

In the domain of time, which measures the gender equality in time spent for care, domestic work and social activities, Italy’s score is 59.3, which is below the EU’s score of 65.7.

What does this mean? Women in Italy are four times more likely (81%) than men (20%) to do housework every day.

This huge gap decreases in couples with children, where 81% of women and 66% of men spend time on daily care activities, suggesting that parenthood is a key factor in shifting housework patterns.

However, despite a 2010 law introducing parental leave for fathers, the rate of fathers actually taking leave remains very low, confirming that mums still do most childcare.

To better understand the challenges of working mums in the localization industry in Italy, I asked Giada to share her story about how she and her partner are overcoming generations of cultural bias to raise their son together in a cooperative and supportive way.

Giada, please introduce yourself!

My name is Giada and I live in Naples, Southern Italy, with my husband and my son, Federico, who’s one-and-a-half years old.

I am a Vendor Manager and have been in the localization industry since 2010, just a bit before I graduated at the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice.

I wanted to be a translator before starting high school and I feel very lucky that I knew what I wanted to do and I could keep my commitment to that.

How would you explain your job to Federico?

He’s very, very young, so all he knows is that I am working when I’m in front of my computer. By now he can answer the question “Should you touch mummy’s computer?”

One day I will definitely talk to my son about it. I will try to explain to him that I work in an industry that is meant to break barriers and help people talk to each other, which is what I like the most about translation. I help companies recruit translators and I help translators find jobs, which is another nice part of my job.

Do you believe our industry is in a better place than others in Italy in terms of working mums’ recognition?

I think there’s a certain degree of openness because we work a lot with other countries – it’s a truly global industry. When Federico was born, I was working for an international company so I was not technically working for an Italian organisation.

But I just started working for an Italian company and I am really pleased with the flexibility and support they are offering. So, I think it really depends on employers and company culture.

So, how your new employer is supporting you?

Working hours are quite flexible so I can work around Federico’s schedules.

One thing I really appreciate in the job I just started is the company paid the travel expenses for me and my family for the induction period because I could not travel alone as I was still breastfeeding. This really exceeded my expectations, it’s a sign of being willing to support work-life balance and a good company culture.

What’s the main challenge that you have faced so far as a working mum?

I think the biggest challenge is balancing the time you spend at work with the time you spend with your family. The thing is, you never want to take time away from your kid.

I had to learn not to feel guilty when I was working, as if I were taking time away from home. I learned to be assertive and became aware that what I was doing was just what I should be doing during those hours. I really love my job, so it was important for me not to feel guilty about it.

Talking about time, has your partner benefited from parental leave? 

Nope, he only took three out of the five days he could have taken for our son’s birth. His employer contacted him on the third day of his leave saying: “OK, but you didn’t give a birth yourself. So that’s no reason for you to be home, you just need to come back to work.”

That’s the kind of resistance that is difficult for families because, of course he didn’t give birth, but he had full legal rights to enjoy his son’s first days. And also, five days of parental leave for fathers is just useless because it’s not enough time to enjoy being at home with a newborn.

How were your careers affected when you became parents?

Our experience as parents was highly impacted by the Covid-19 situation, so it’s probably a bit different and weird.

During lockdown I wasn’t actually working as I had just quit my previous job to take some time off with my son. I was on a government aid, which allowed me to not work for a few months and not rush back to work in a way that wasn’t in-line with what we wanted in terms of work-life balance.

When I returned to work, we just shared the duties. I was working in the morning and he was working the afternoon and we had some sort of flexibility.

My partner was planning a career change and he quit his job a bit earlier than planned to take better care of Federico during the summer. So, that was a big move in terms of being a responsible father.

Do you feel the two of you have the same responsibilities with your son?

Definitely! What is funny, though, is that this is perceived as something bizarre from the outside. A lot of people just can’t figure out that he changes nappies or prepares food.

One of the questions we are most frequently asked is whether he helps me. Just as if I was the mum and he was a stranger who happened to be in the house with us. That’s very strange to us. We have always been very respectful of each other’s personal life and we have always shared responsibilities. And I’m very grateful for that because this allows me to pursue my career goals.

What’s the one challenge you think working mums have in Italy?

I am not sure if this is something that only happens in Italy, but I think that there is an issue with maternity leave. Global scientific advice is that you should exclusively breastfeed your child until at least six months. That collides hugely with the statutory maternity leave, which can last up to five months in Italy.

Even if I worked until the end of the eighth month of my pregnancy, I had to go back to work when my boy was only four months old. When I got back from leave, I decided to take two additional months off, which fall under what’s called optional parental leave. However, while you get full salary the first month, the second month is only 60-70% percent of your salary.

What’s the one measure the government should take now to help working mums?

Granting a longer parental leave would certainly help because that would allow both parents to be more present. If you think of parental leave in Sweden, for example, I know they have a very long leave and part of it is only for the father. I strongly believe that it’s important for the father to spend some time alone with his child.

What’s the most impactful support you received from the government?

The most impactful support for me was the chance to leave my previous job before my son turned one while getting financial aid from the state. This replaces a good part of your salary most of the time. It really gave me the opportunity to enjoy some time with Federico, and take the step without having to worry too much about money.

I think this aid can be tricky as it could be perceived as to encourage mums to quit their job instead of granting a longer parental leave. Do you feel you had to take a step back in your career because you are a working mum?

I actually think being a mum helped me take a step forward in my career. It really made me feel different about my priorities.

I realized that some things that were really worrying me before or making me feel upset didn’t have the right to invade the time I was spending with my son. That time is ours and I want to be the best version of myself, both for my son and for me.

I actually feel that becoming a mum really spurred me to leave a job that I was not enjoying anymore. And the job I am in now makes me feel happier. I have more responsibilities than I used to have. So, I feel that this is a step forward in my career and not a step back. But above all, the real step forward was fully owning my decision and being able to say, hey, this is what I want. This is what I’m going to get.

So Giada, what’s your recipe for finding work-life balance?

If you feel something is preventing you from being the best version of yourself, if you’re not feeling good about what you are currently doing, find a way to pursue your career success.

When you’re a happy person, it’s so much easier to be a good parent: you’re more patient, you’re more willing to do stuff and you’re going to spend quality time with your family. And that’s what matters the most.

And if you need help, ask for it. Don’t just surrender to the idea that if you have a child, you’re never going to be a professional again or you’re never going to grow your career.

Look for nurseries with extended hours, ask for flexible work schedules, find alternative babysitting arrangements: sharing a nanny with other mums can be a good idea to reduce costs and have someone to help you out.

Thanks, Giada, for sharing your experience! While an increase in fathers taking leave and a decrease in the gender gap will need to be supported by a set of government policies aimed at changing parental, work and workplace culture, I’m sure your story will help many mums out there to take a step forward in finding work-life balance and breaking gender stereotypes on raising children.