«Italians [are] decent people,» they used to say after the Second World War. A myth, of course. We are no more decent than other people. The issue of racism in Italy is largely underestimated, if not removed. Many still have the illusion that it is someone else’s problem. Yet, to have any doubts, it is enough to study our colonial history or think about how immigration has been managed in the last two decades.
The word “inclusion” today is a buzzword, a bit like “innovation” or “sustainability.” Everyone talks about it in the corporate world; still, I’m not sure everyone knows what they’re talking about. In Italy, the number of micro-companies, i.e., those with less than ten employees, represents 95% of the total and employs 45% of workers. If we add small companies, from 10 to 49 employees, almost 100% of the total and over 60% of workers are covered (source: Istat). It isn’t easy to find clear Diversity & Inclusion policies in this small and local ecosystem, as happens in larger companies. Inclusion risks being an illusion even if, of course, there are positive experiences.
Hi Limaraina, we met on LinkedIn when you commented on a post that I made on those topics. Can you tell us something about yourself?
Hi Marco! First of all, thanks for interviewing me. Well, about me, I’m a 22 year old woman, I work in the design industry here in Milan. I moved to Milan to study product design in 2016 and I’ve been here ever since. I was born and raised in a multicultural household (Goan & Kannad cultures, from South/South West India) in a town called Kalyan on the outskirts of Mumbai, India. I moved to Italy very young so the initial years were about just me taking it all in, trying to understand my place here, where exactly do I belong. Whereas, the last couple of years after graduating have mostly been about survival. Apart from my work I love experimenting with makeup, bioplastics and I sometimes write articles about topics that inspire me.
Today in Italy, we talk more and more often about gender inclusion, and the first, in my opinion timid, attempts to tackle the issue of discrimination related to skin color or ethnicity are beginning. What do you think about it?
As you said people have been increasingly participating in the discussion in Italy surrounding gender inclusion. While it’s good to have this discussion on a wider scale, the stats and incidents regarding unemployment among women, femicide, homophobia, transphobia and the resistance towards DDL Zan shows us how far we really are to even claim that Italy’s making progress in gender inclusion.
While there are many well intentioned and determined people who want to make a change, the casual and tolerant mentality in Italy towards sexism, homophobia, transphobia & racism does not take people seriously when they voice their opinion about these topics. Perspectives of POC1 and LGBTQ+ people in Italy are not counted in, neither in casual conversations nor in important decisions like making laws. So systems which work decently (won’t say perfectly, because Italian bureaucracy is extremely unorganized) for many white Italians are simply not designed to function for POC or LGBTQ+ needs.
Even in the corporate world, people love showing off their diverse faces on their social media pages and their websites but still directly discourage immigrants and/or foreigners from applying for jobs in their organization as ‘they don’t sponsor visas’ or hire you only if ‘you have the right to work in Italy and will continue to in the future’.
Recently, a job I was applying to even asked whether I was ‘madrelingua italiano’ in its LinkedIn questions for a non customer facing job. Such conditions show that HR absolutely didn’t do its homework regarding immigration rules or even the basic courtesy of being polite, since in Italy for long term work, there is no visa, there’s just a permit and to attain this permit the most important document to have is a work contract with a pay that proves you can sustain yourself financially. This work permit can be preceded by a study permit or a permit awaiting employment, so all you need is to get hired.
And in the fortunate case that you do get hired, there is an absolute absence of considering the needs of your ‘diverse’ staff. I’ve not yet come across company policy that talks about extended holiday periods or international remote working arrangements for immigrant/foreign workers, therapy sessions for POC & LGBTQ+ employees, medical insurance covering the needs of people with disability and procedures for trans people, there is so much more corporate Italy can do to make people feel more welcome and ultimately provide them a safe and productive work environment. Because reporting to HR in Italy just doesn’t cut it, it could risk creating a hostile and unsafe work environment.
What advice would you give to young people facing discrimination?
I haven’t really figured out this one yet, because these incidents never stop happening and you feel horrible every time it happens, to you or to anyone else. I could tell you about advice that I have received from people who care about me and people who I look up to that kind of works for me. To understand that what happened was not your fault and not in your control, to understand that there are literal systems that ignore your needs and problems and that this very mentality enables the person or institution that discriminated against you. Once you’ve ingrained that into your mind, you fight for change, you don’t have to be a revolutionary or an activist, understand that your very existence is a fight, that your successes, no matter how small or big are blows to systemic racism, and if you feel like it or have the energy for it, try giving it back to people who mistreat you under the pretext of ‘just doing their job’, take the tiniest effort to correct well intentioned but ignorant people around you. I know it feels like why should this be your job to do, but the more we voice our opinions the bigger the discussion against discrimination gets. I would also advise them to take part in local initiatives that make them feel like they belong, could be social media initiatives, NGOs, art groups, etc.