Festa della Donna

Ciao a Tutti!

SO this week on Wednesday we celebrated International Women’s Day- Festa della Donna in Italian- with an insightful talk by the Institute’s director Julia Race. Race started her lecture with a clear, statistical explanation of why we need International Women’s Day- or as Race joked, why we should dedicate 183 days a year to women as 51% of the global population is female! She explained the Global Gender Gap Index which exhibits a score out of 1 for each country, where 1 is perfect equality, based on the academic attainment, economic participation, health and survival and political engagement of each gender. It’s all too apparent from the numbers the disparity between men and women across the world. Also, if you’re wondering where the UK and Italy clocked in, it was at 20th and 50th place respectively.

Race split her lecture into two parts: her personal reflection of mistreatment in the workplace and the socio-linguistic differences between men and women. At just 33 years old, Race was director of the Academic Cooperation Association working in Brussels with the EU to negotiate the well-known “Erasmus” exchange scheme. The board was all male and Race reflects on how when entering the room to discuss contacts, her assistant director- a slightly older Belgian man- would be greeted and shown to a seat, with Race often being left to put the coats away.

AND this discrimination is still present. In fact, I read an article published only two days ago on one man’s experience of hostility from his usual clients when he accidentally signed off an email with his female colleague’s signature. Read the article!

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Julia Race reading an extract from Deborah Tannen’s ‘Talking from 9 to 5’. Tannen is a renowned American academic and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University. Her book covers how women’s and men’s ways of speaking affect who gets heard, who gets credit, who gets ahead and what gets done in the workplace.

Race progressed her talk to different linguistic styles of men and women, starting by giving a classic example of how we unintentionally misunderstand each other. She remembered an experience when she was in the backseat of a colleague’s car with a man driving and woman sat in the passenger seat. They had been driving for quite some time when the woman asked the male driver, “Would you like to stop for coffee?” to which he shortly responded “No”. This short exchange resulted in the woman becoming annoyed; the man had not thought to ask her if she would like a coffee- the reply she assumed he would give. The man was equally irritated wondering what the devil he had done to annoy the woman! It’s a great and comical example of the informative way in which a man thinks and responds vs. the intuitive style of a woman. To quote Deborah Tannen, “The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation – or a relationship.”  

Luckily The British Institute does not follow the typical trends of gender inequality! The past four directors have all been female and 68% of current staff are women. I must also add that out of the 9 centenary cultural programme lectures I have been to, 5 have been taken by female lecturers! For me, this fact is particularly important as it reminds us of and reinforces the notion that young women such as myself can be extremely successful academics, like the amazing and inspiring women I have had the pleasure to listen to.

Today’s idiom can be used to describe Julia Race and the other fantastic academics I have encountered at the Institute:

Essere in gamba literally meaning to be in leg but is used to describe someone who is extremely capable, talented and successful. I suppose the nearest equivalent in English is someone who takes things in their stride.

So a BIG thank you (o grazie mille!) to Julia Race and the Institute, I cannot believe this is my final month studying here in Florence- I will NEVER be ready to leave this fabulous city and its people!!


Mills X

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