Nov 05, 2013 4:59 AM GMT
"Italy is a very insular country, and in cities like Parma it's even more so," company spokesman Luca Virginio told Reuters, saying the firm had been shocked by the global backlash.
"The meetings have helped open our eyes and ears to the evolution taking place in the world outside Parma."
He said the shock could lead to a shift in focus from rosy depictions of traditional Italian family life that have always been the staple of Barilla advertising campaigns.
"We are already working on new advertising concept that will be much more open and much more inclusive," he said, without elaborating.
The pasta maker plans to introduce an advisory board that includes American gay activist David Mixner to improve "diversity and equality in the company's workforce and culture", according to a statement posted on its website.
However Carlos Dews, a gay English professor at Rome's John Cabot University who has boycotted Barilla products and urged his Facebook friends to do the same, was skeptical.
He said the measures were a step in the right direction but it was too soon to tell whether they would bring any real change. "It may all be window dressing," he said.
As well as the internal advisory board, Barilla will participate in the U.S.-based Human Rights Campaign's corporate equality index, which rates companies' policies relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.
Privately owned Barilla, which had almost 4 billion euros in sales last year, declined to say if the boycott had hurt sales but it cannot afford to offend consumers in the United States, now its second-biggest pasta market.
Last year net profit fell more than 21 per cent to $84 million as Italy struggled through its worst recession in six decades.