Breaking the Glass Ceiling is Good for Everyone; How to Promote Female Entrepreneurship

The high-level roundtable ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling is Good for Everyone; How to Promote Female Entrepreneurship’ took place on October 25th at the residence of the Dutch Ambassador in Rome.

During this meeting, 20 Dutch and Italian influential women exchanged experiences on how to promote the position of women in their respective countries, learning from each other and establishing Best Practices.

The roundtable is part of a continuous dialogue between the two countries, as a follow up of the first successful Netherlands-Italy female CEO roundtable that took place during the State Visit of the Dutch royal couple in 2017. A strong Dutch-Italian network of women in top positions has evolved since, existing of prominent women such as Marry de Gaay Fortman (Dutch Lawyer and President of Stichting Topvrouwen) and Elisabetta Belloni (Secretary General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) who were both key-note speaker at the recent meeting in Rome.

During the discussion, led by Deputy Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd, one central theme emerged. Both Dutch and the Italian women highlighted the need to fight the existing unconscious bias and implicit discrimination against women. Education and training is key to solve this issue, not only as a means to change the attitudes and mindsets of men, but also to change the attitudes and mindsets of women themselves. Against general impression, the need to empower women and encourage them to become aware of their rights was still seen as an area of great attention. Women have to help women to raise their self-confidence, while at the same time preserving their own identity. Structural innovation is needed to enable both women and men to properly manage their work-life balance.

Concrete structural changes were suggested. Changing the model of leadership. Implementing coaching or mentoring programs for (young) female leaders. Changing recruitment programs and criteria. Changing algorithms that promote unconscious bias. Changing the default in-company recruitment by considering a list of female employees for each vacancy. Sufficient parental leave for both sexes creates an enabling environment and improved gender equality on the labour market.

Also a discussion on the use of a legal quota for women in executive boards took place. On  this issue, the general agreement was that, though not considered ideal, this was nevertheless a necessary measure to solve the existing distortion of the market. To achieve 40% women on company boards has been a European Commission recommendation since 2012. In Italy it has clearly worked, with female boardroom members going up from 9% in 2008 to 36% in 2019. In the Netherlands the debate on how to increase the current 26,8% representation of women at the top level in companies is ongoing.

Another market distortion was discussed; the difficulties that female entrepreneurs in the startup sector experience in attracting venture capital. This led to the idea of creating a Venture Capital Fund at the EU level, focused only on female entrepreneurs.

To conclude, all agreed that the current Netherlands-Italy dialogue needs to be continued. The exchange of experiences was highly appreciated by participants and should ideally be scaled up, involving other parties such as the Dutch and Italian governments through our strategic Vanvitelli Dialogue, other embassies, public and private partners, within the EU and with European partners, but also outside of the EU. And with, of course, men.

Concrete initiatives that will shape the agenda for the coming year is 1) Organize a CEO roundtable for top women at EU level that can kick start 2) the European Venture Capital Fund for female entrepreneurs 3) Discuss diversity and inclusion policies of Italy and the Netherlands between policy makers through our VanVitelli Strategic Dialogue, 4) start cooperation in Rome with the International Gender Champions Network


·       A diverse and inclusive organization has to become the new normal. It’s a cultural change and will take time.

·       Halve of the resources available in society are women. Using that resource leads to economic growth.

·       ‘Now I see so many average men in top positions. Women have to work twice as hard to reach the same level. We will have reached true equality once there are also average women in top positions’ .