Elena has a seven-month old baby and is about to quit her job, unable to overcome the difficulties of combining motherhood and work in Italy, where both women's employment and the birth rate are among the lowest in the European Union.

Getting more women into the labor force is imperative for the central bank, which has said the change is needed to support long-term economic growth and ensure that Italy's €2.8 trillion ($3 trillion) debt pile is sustainable.

Dealing with gender inequality — a subject that won Claudia Goldin the Nobel economics prize this past week — could also ease a demographic crisis that threatens the pension system, five economists including Italy's former chief statistician said. Research shows women in richer economies are more likely to have children if they work.