The father of information technology was actually a mother. Her name was Ada Lovelace and, in 19th century London, she created the first algorithm with the specific idea that it should be elaborated by a machine.
Thanks to algorithms, 200 years later, Pepper gesticulates, waves and answers, sometimes quite cheekily. Pepper is a humanoid robot and one of the stars of the Girls in ICT Day which was organised for the third year running by Enel Digital Solutions, in Rome on 3 May, and in Madrid on 11 May at the headquarters of Endesa, Enel’s Spanish subsidiary.
A double initiative that not only celebrated International Girls in ICT Day (26 April) which is supported by all the member states of the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), but also promoted the goal of encouraging young women to choose STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) professions and bridge the gender gap.
The future is STEM education
Pepper is neither male nor female: a good sign considering that the robot is a symbol of the new world of technology that awaits us; a world that the statistics suggest girls are reluctant to embrace.
“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 and this area of growth?” was the question asked by Carlo Bozzoli, Head of Enel’s Global Digital Solutions, as he opened the event at the Enel Auditorium in Rome.
The numbers 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 also an Italian problem, and it is particularly Italian when you consider that Italy ranks 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: 78% of students in the humanities faculties are female, as are 68% of students in medicine related disciplines (the so-called “Grey’s Anatomy syndrome”) and 56% in social sciences, compared to only 37% of those studying the sciences. This gap has actually increased in recent years: today, just 13% of the ICT workforce in Italy are women.
The situation is not much better in Spain: while one job in eight will be in ICT by 2025, only 30% of STEM faculty students and 3% of STEM graduates are women. These numbers, cited by Andrea Lo Faso, Human Resources and Organisation Manager for Iberia, are surprising because they contradict exam and test results where girls perform better than boys. “This is proof that that the real problem is gender prejudice: to paraphrase Einstein, it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.”
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.
“There is a great need for the analytical capacity of women today: analysing data or phenomena is not very different from understanding Kantian categories,” said Francesca Di Carlo, Enel’s Head of Human Resources and Organisation, who invited the girls 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 in Rome and Madrid 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 different opportunities for her.
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 today manages a startup, present in 6 countries with a 80% female workforce, whose aim is to make technology fun, creative and exciting. 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 when she was 16. Here she teaches her students teamwork and learning by doing.
An approach that was also applied to the Girls in ICT Day in Madrid: the students of Colegio Europeo de Madrid, IES Federico Garcìa Lorca and Colegio Aldeafuente were divided into teams and asked to create applications for smartphones and tablets on themes of their choosing ranging from cinema and fashion, to food and travel. It’s a way of overturning perspectives by asking these digital natives to look at a technology that is integral to their daily habits with an eye to creating it, rather than simply using it. “Women can play a key role in the technical and scientific subjects, because technology is changing the quality of life for people” explained Sandra Alfonso Cagigas, Head of Digital Market Transformation at Endesa.
There were first-hand success stories in Madrid too. Such as that presented by Fabiola Perez Ramos, CEO of Metiora, a company working in the Internet of Things. “We are living in a wonderful time, where everything is changing: by 2020, 95% of things produced will be connected to the internet.” Perez Ramos talked about the gender ratio on her telecommunications engineering course, where 20 of the 150 students who started the course were female, as were 16 of the 46 who actually completed it. “Today we analyse only 10% of the data we produce, yet there are not enough data analysts, equally the cyber security sector is about to grow exponentially.”
Diversity in Enel
Lea, Chiara, Valeria, Fabiola. They are all perfect testimonials for Girls in ICT, a day created by Enel in order 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 valued for many years and where we are working to reduce the salary gap, to promote mentoring programmes by female employees of female students 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 (in Rome) discussed their personal experiences at Enel, working in new sectors, from data analysis to cyber security.
“You will only regret what you haven’t dared to do,” concluded Nicoletta Rocca, Head of HR and Organisation, Global Digital Solutions.
A regret never experienced by Ada Lovelace. She decided to follow her passion for numbers and continues to be a role model, 200 years on.