Girls in ICT, heading for the innovation professions
Ada Lovelace and then, two centuries later, Pepper. In 19th century London, Lord Byron’s daughter created an algorithm with the specific idea that it should be elaborated by a machine: she was the mother of the information technology of today.
In Rome, 200 years later, Pepper is (thanks to algorithms) a humanoid robot that gesticulates, waves and answers. She was, inevitably, a star during the day organised by Enel to celebrate International Girls in ICT Day (information and communications technology) and promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) professions for girls.
“We are at the start of the fourth industrial revolution and two thirds of future jobs will be related to STEM subjects: does it make sense that half the population is precluded from this opportunity?”
– Carlo Bozzoli, Head of Enel’s Global Digital Solutions
With this question, Carlo Bozzoli opened the event, which was organised in partnership with JA Italia and ELIS and welcomed and engaged large numbers of students between the ages of 16 and 25 at the Viale Regina Margherita Auditorium in Rome on 3 May.
The rankings of the gender gap
The numbers in Italy are worrying, as Monica Parrella, coordinator of the Office for Equality and Equal Opportunity Action at the Italian Prime Minister’s Office – Department of Equal Opportunities, and Tindara Addabbo, lecturer at the Marco Biagi Department of Economics at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, reminded the audience. “It isn’t only a problem for Italy, but it is an Italian problem, and it is particularly Italian when you consider that we rank second last in Europe, after Greece, for female employment,” explained Parrella, who added that less than half of women of a working age in Italy have a job.
A snapshot of the university population is sufficient to demonstrate the gender gap: while 78% of students in humanities faculties are women, only 37% of science students are. This gap actually increased between 2006 and 2015: today only 13% of the ICT workforce in Italy are women.
It is not simply a problem of career opportunity. The lack of graduates, and, consequently of career professionals, in technical and scientific sectors constitutes an enormous loss of wealth. “If as many women were employed in ICT as men, the European GDP would increase by €9 billion annually,” explained Addabbo, while Bozzoli mentioned that there are 850,000 unfulfilled vacancies in Europe, with companies searching for skill sets that they are not finding.
“I would recommend a STEM degree to the young women who are choosing their study path: the logical skills that they will acquire, combined with tenacity and an awareness that it is not necessary to be perfect, could open the way forward to a satisfying future”
– Francesca Di Carlo, Enel’s Head of Human Resources and Organisation
Francesca Di Carlo also invited the women present to “learn to master this society, not to endure it.” This call to action was echoed by another top executive, Luisa Arienti, the Managing Director of SAP Italia who also happens to be a lover of Greek literature and a physics graduate. “There is an extreme need for your female intelligence in the new world, the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence, otherwise the new world will simply replicate the old one: creating a better world is both your right and your duty.”
Yes, we can: success stories
The first-hand success stories presented at the Girls in ICT Day demonstrated that not only is a better future for women possible, it already exists. Stories from Enel itself, like that of Lea Tarchioni, Head of Human Resources and Organisation Italy, who for four years at university was “the only girl on the engineering courses,” a study path that opened many doors and opportunities for her: “From a technological woman, I become an HR woman, without neglecting my hobbies or demeaning my female side.”
“What’s your Power? Creativity combined with logic and structure: Pink Power!”
– Lea Tarchioni, Enel’s Head of Human Resources and Organisation Italy
There were also stories from outside Enel. Like that of Chiara Russo, CEO and co-founder of Codemotion, who heard the same question for years – “a female engineer?” – and who today manages a startup which is present in 6 countries. Thanks to its 80% female workforce, it helps make technology a fun, creative and exciting interest. Then there’s the story of Valeria Cagnina, a 17-year-old from Alessandria who built her first robot at the age of 11 by watching tutorials on YouTube, spent the summer at MIT in Boston at the age of 15 and set up a school of robotics for children and adults at 16. Valeria’s contagious enthusiasm suggests that nothing is impossible and she answers “why not” instead of “yes, but.”
A perfect approach for a day that Enel created precisely to “overturn the statistics,” as Bozzoli explained: to reverse the trend, by demonstrating that technology and science are allies for women, and vice-versa. And while scholastic institutions may not offer help or different role models, but actually reinforce gender stereotypes, businesses can do a lot to bridge the gap. This is the case at Enel where diversity has been a value for many years and where one new employee in three in 2017 was female. A group like ours, with a high component of technology and innovation, values young female graduates in engineering, computer science and statistical sciences. Which is exactly what happened to Giulia Brandetti, Arianna Di Luzio, Angela Italiano and Mariá Possobom Rodrigues da Rocha who talked about their personal experiences at Enel, working in new sectors, from data analysis to cyber security. That could be a model for the many students present, who were also put to the test by the digi-quiz on technology presented by Chiara Burberi, President and CEO of the online education programme Redooc, and Enel’s Chief Innovability® Officer Ernesto Ciorra.
The main thing is not to be afraid to take risks, said many of the presenters. “You will only regret what you haven’t dared to do,” concluded Nicoletta Rocca, Head of HR and Organisation, Global Digital Solutions.
Ada Lovelace never experienced this regret, when she decided to follow her passion 200 years ago, and she continues to inspire new generations of women to this day.