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  • Writer's pictureSara Baroni

Women in science: a battle in the silence

Silence: the battle that unites Chiara Ferragni, the D.i.Re centers and women in science.

How do you change the world? Being there, making one's voice heard, one's presence perceived. By making one's work speak, even through others, to help others. Contrary to all those stereotypes that would like us to be rivals, enemies, we women have a great ancestral power that makes us unique and gives ourself authority: sisterhood.

We have all seen at least a hundred posts on Chiara Ferragni's clothes in Sanremo, and we have all had the opportunity to meet, through her, Antonella Veltri, director of the anti-violence centers of the D.I.Re network (women on the net against violence)

If you've ever read Silvia Nucini's interview (on Vanityfair) with Chiara and Antonella, then you already know it. You are aware that there are many controversies surrounding this media operation, but you also know that the director herself said:

“Silence is not necessarily a value. Silence is also one reason for which violence survives”.

Why we opened this women's day in science with an introduction on anti-violence centres? Because the problem is common: gender-based violence is perpetuated due to silence.

Women in science a battle in the silence

Maria Sibylla Merian, Gertrude Belle Elion, Hedy Lamarr, Raye Montague and Ilaria Capua are just five of the women who, throughout history, have seen their important contribution in the technical and scientific fields cancelled. The underrepresentation and undervaluation of women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sector is a phenomenon that doesn't only concern historical memory: it's still an unresolved issue.

The UNESCO report on scientific development states that women have almost reached parity in terms of accessibility to higher levels of education: globally, 45-55% of women have a bachelor's degree or a specialization, and the 44% one or more doctorates.

Although these figures seem encouraging, the report shows that this trend is not maintained in the transition from the academic world to the working one. According to the data, only 33.3% of women actually become part of the workforce in these sectors. The number even drops to 28% and 22% in the fields of engineering and artificial intelligence.

Awaiting women, once they finish their studies, are mostly shorter and lower paid career paths, low visibility in high-profile popular publications, private companies and in leadership roles. The Fourth Industrial Revolution - being centered on the research and new technologies sectors, in which women are already a minority - will only deepen the gender gap.

The 3 reasons that prevent you from emerging:

1. Gender stereotypes. Engineering, mathematics and science in general are considered purely male fields. But it will certainly not be men who break down these comfortable stereotypes: it's up to us to look up, to realize that the world is changing and that we have to change simultaneously with it, so as not to see ourselves cut off.

Demeaning behavior towards young female students in the school and family environment is the order of the day. Often and willingly the abilities of girls are underestimated, assuming a priori that they will have to work harder to achieve levels of excellence close to those of their male peers.

If it's true that care work is still up to women, then let's start from there, where we can silently contribute to changing the future vision of the world: we have the possibility of educating the new generations of girls and future teachers to break these stereotypes.

2. The lack of role models. History books, media and popular culture certainly don't help female voices to emerge. Here too, however, we start from the bottom: reading to our daughters and sons motivational stories full of examples of great women in every field, such as "Goodnight Stories for rebel girls". Who knows, maybe one day it will also be adopted as a book in the curriculum in state elementary schools.

3. The objective predominance of male and chauvinist culture in the sector triggers a vicious circle of exclusion. The very little support for female figures makes the prospect of embarking on a technical-scientific professional path even less attractive. But, again, generational change is inevitable: the choices of today's parents will inevitably influence the mentality of the future generations.

For this reason, now more than ever, it is necessary to be aware of the degree of responsibility we assume by choosing to embark on a parenting journey. In practice already now, thanks to the policies of the European Union and the support they receive from the Italian regions, there are excellent STEM programs for girls.

We already see enthusiastic reference figures operating in practice, capable of enhancing young women and shaping qualifying and enhancing training courses for them. An example of a woman who works for women, and who really deserves a lot of esteem is Prof. Claudia Canali, inventor of a wonderful coding program for girls, who has obtained the support of the region to expand her training project on the regional territory of Emilia Romagna.

There are so many examples, and they will all find their place in this column. But now I would like to go back to the initial concept, to connect the dots.

Why is it important to be there?

Choosing not to be present in this fourth industrial revolution, the digital one, means losing the female contribution, relegating women once again to passive spectators of their own history for the next decades, perhaps centuries.

Choosing not to act today entails taking a harmful stance for future generations of women.

We women, and here imagine a huge pat on the back of praise but also of understanding, have a great talent that society has taken advantage of for years. We are able to perceive the real value of care work as something capable of bringing a concrete benefit to others, to people, to society, to the common well-being.

We know well how indispensable help and support are in order to act for the common good: we have an overall mentality that approaches the future. Too bad this role has been forced upon us and the pay is non-existent. But, beyond the controversies that you have already heard a thousand times about, I would like to emphasize the following: the talent of women also lies in being able to bring sustainable ethics into new technologies.

Chiara Ferragni, the D.I.Re centers, Sanremo and pistachio croissants

I opened the article talking about anti-violence centers because it's here that we see how women's way of reasoning benefits everyone through a scientific approach. I too, like many friends and other women out there, have suffered situations of violence, in my case psychological. However, something incredible happened when I approached scientific subjects: my friends, that are also the greatest partners and colleagues, made me understand that it was possible, with certain skills, to work to change things.

As a child I understood that pistachio croissants just weren't for me and I learned to avoid them, just like today, thanks to the support I received, I avoid places and situations in which psychological violence are perpetuated.

Don't get me wrong, the lightness with which I talk about this topic is not for lack of respect, but to make people understand that these are everyday situations that can seem normal on the agenda when you live them, just like having breakfast. It's not always easy and certainly the world we live in doesn't help us. We're often forced to face situations in which prejudices, stereotypes, lack of respect for rights and psychological violence are the order of the day.

But right here everything comes together: with technology, with our ethical contribution, with our willingness to want to fight for each other, ideas can arise that can change things, break the silence that often imprisons us.

The work of the anti-violence centers of the D.I.Re network, for example, represents an immense value for the Italian national territory, as are the companies that are getting certified for gender equality and the universities that favor STEM courses for young women .

These networks, when joined together, can enable countless women to find empowering opportunities for themselves, while contributing to the collective well-being of all others. Choosing not to sign the blank resignation or to work in certified companies, for example, will increase the number of companies that want to obtain this certification.

Think about it: if from passive consumers of content on social networks, we have managed to become an active component capable of influencing the marketing strategies of large multinationals, we can do the same for our jobs.

A practical example of female STEM

Technology, in this case, comes to our aid: think for example of UNA Women, our app, which combines all this information to help reduce the gender gap before the 132 years set by the World Economic Forum.

Through this platform it is possible to find job opportunities in gender equal certified companies and, for those who need it, near the centers of the D.I.Re. network. Often, in fact, in situations of violence, what is missing is the economic freedom to be able to leave.

In this way, for example, one could work in certified realities and continue to receive support from shelters and/or psychological support from centres. This is just one example of ethical and sustainable technology designed by women for women.

Try to imagine a world where women and STEM skills are no longer an oxymoron: what would we be able to create for each other? How would it change our way of working, of living everyday life? How happy will you be?


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Thank you

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