“Back to School”: the importance of STEM subjects for girls, and their role model allies

“Back to School”: the importance of STEM subjects for girls, and their role model allies

“Back to School” is our initiative to raise awareness among young people, and in particular girls, at high schools about the value of technical and scientific training, and to counter gender stereotypes.

The numbers say it loud and clear: women continue to be in a clear minority when it comes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, both in terms of studying at university and careers.

Worldwide only 35% of students in these faculties are women, and some particular subjects show disparities that are even more notable. Only 7% of female students, for example, study engineering, compared with 22% of male students (source: World Bank 2020) and only 12% of members of national scientific academies are women, in spite of the fact that women make up 55% of those studying for Master’s or doctorates (source: UN Women, 2021).

There is a close correlation between gender parity and the inclusion of women in STEM fields. It is also worth considering that more than half of the new professions, some of which do not even exist yet, will require these types of skills, as has been outlined in a McKinsey report. So, the time has come for women to enter this world with determination. These are professions marked by high employment rates, with more pronounced career and economic growth trajectories.

These subjects deserve to be taken into consideration because they offer women an opportunity in the job market, but also in the worlds of business and research. They are also an opportunity for society as a whole, which can become even more innovative and inclusive.


Enel’s commitment to an inclusive and sustainable future

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are four distinct but closely related disciplines that are becoming increasingly integrated with the humanist dimension of knowledge. These are the skills that will enable the professions of the future to respond to the global challenges of the energy transition, the advancement of digitalization, and the fight against climate change.

Inspiring young people to pursue education and careers in the STEM fields, balancing technical skills with the humanities, is part of a solid commitment that we have been pursuing for some time. New open and innovative forms of education are the basis for numerous initiatives that we have launched in recent years: this is with the aim of creating an inclusive context in which young people can feel comfortable in the spaces where tomorrow is being envisioned and constructed.

Some time ago we created a strong bond at global level with schools and universities through various tools such as shadowing, summer camps, tours of the Group’s facilities and premises, and lab activities together with pathways for soft skills and orientation.

And this is the thinking behind Back to School, a STEM initiative that this year involves 11 countries and 3,800 students, almost 80% of whom are female.

Nor should we underestimate the contribution of the 64 colleagues who have generously made their own experience available and have gone into the schools in question to talk to the youngsters.

The results are beginning to be seen.

“In my opinion, awareness is gradually growing about the fact that at work women can perform as well as, if not better than, men,” says Gaia Cianfrini, an Italian student who took part in the initiative. “Because until now there has been a kind of fear, this inherent stereotype, of women being able to achieve the same results – or have the same careers – as men.”

“I was really excited when I first heard about it because it’s exactly what I want to do in the future as a career,” adds Aggeletou Fereniki, a high school student in Greece. “I was really impressed by the presentation. It was very different from what my classmates and I are used to: it’s a new way of teaching.”


A dialogue between generations

Back to School is a format that also involves Enel professionals who actually go into high schools as role models to speak to young people and promote the importance of STEM training in relation to the professions of tomorrow.

The program is based on a practical and tangible approach because it opens a window onto the future for young people so that they can become fully aware of their own educational choices. Although the heart of the initiative is school, the project also extends beyond the classroom: the aim is to create a dialogue between two generations. On the one hand, the professionals share their stories and knowledge while, on the other, the students are stimulated to move closer to the STEM subjects.

“The truth is that it was a great experience because I went back to my old school and it brought back lots of memories. I was able to meet with the students and I told them about some of the opportunities that the world of STEM offers, including breaking through the gender stereotypes that still exist today,” explains Sonia Bielsa Tomas, a Supervisor at an Enel Green Power wind farm in Spain and a role model in the Back to School program.


“Back to School really captured my attention as I’m the mum of a STEM girl and math lover. The future is STEM because all the professions will require these skills and women cannot miss out on this opportunity. To the girls I say, don’t imitate others in order to be accepted, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and then feel guilty about them: just keep on trying. Back to School is an opportunity to work together to break down many of the stereotypes that still exist.”
Aurora Viola, Head of Market Italy, Enel


Tangible opportunities

Back to School offers the young participants some interesting and innovative learning opportunities to move closer to the world of employment, broaden their networks and improve their career opportunities.

Students in their third and fourth years of high school are able to access career counseling, conversations on specific issues in order to help them make better-informed choices about their future studies and careers. There is also shadowing, where the youngsters can spend days working side-by-side with a professional to begin to understand the mechanisms and language of the world of work, as well as the opportunities open to those who study STEM subjects. In Italy, girls who are about to complete their high school diplomas can take part in a competition to win a study grant that will cover all the university fees of a three-year degree in a STEM subject at one of our national public academic partners.

“Providing an opportunity to boost their prospects and help them realize that there is no limit on what they can achieve: this is the ultimate reward,” concludes Alisha Raghoonanan, Project Engineer and Manager at EGP South Africa. “And I hope that in the next ten years, when these girls graduate and start working, they can do the same and share their experiences with the community.”