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Aspen at Expo: Mind the Stem Gap

  • Meeting in hybrid format - Dubai
  • 11 February 2022

        Promoting women in the study of STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a global challenge. As statistics and research show, however, the case of Italy is especially urgent. The pandemic having had a particularly negative impact on women in terms of work and social life, additional legislative and other efforts in support of women’s more active role are currently underway.

        The leadership style most typical of women is ideally suited to scientific research and technological innovation, due to both a greater predisposition for teamwork and a high ethical standard, a factor acknowledged as vital to the most avant-garde sectors. Moreover, diversity is essential when it comes to knowledge advancement, since a fundamental feature that emerges from women’s professional success stories is the ability to combine skilled data analysis with creativity.

        Naturally underlying the progression toward a STEM career is access to a good education from a very young age onward, and this continues to be a problem in some socio-cultural settings. A personal “STEM identity” can already begin to form at elementary school level, and it is therefore necessary to focus on that period of cultural development if the female presence in later phases is to be supported.

        Negative stereotypes concerning female professionals continue to be a barrier, but are possibly secondary to the lack of better degree courses and opportunities for contact with persons and ideas outside familial and cultural origins. These factors make for freedom of choice that otherwise risks would remain merely abstract, and allow for implementation of the universal principle of equal opportunity. Seizing opportunity at a young age leads to true empowerment, not least in economic terms, given that STEM sectors offer the best prospects for future growth. Even more specifically, many recent studies reveal that mathematics – the language of STEM disciplines – presents a crucial barrier for the most ambitious careers. Math education is therefore a prerequisite for opening up much broader horizons.

        An important cultural ingredient is the ability to convince the public of the role of science; explaining the potential and methods of scientific research is an integral part of every effort at steering female students and young adults toward STEM studies. The pervasiveness of new technologies in daily life should facilitate this transition. Yet, a systematic effort at communication is needed, especially with a view to linking and making compatible the two objectives of environmental sustainability and fairness, a balance that while hard to strike is indispensable. Moreover, scientific disciplines are always marked by a mixture of thirst for theoretical knowledge and for solutions to concrete problems – personal success and social commitment can certainly also go hand in hand. The growing presence itself of women in high-profile professional and economic sectors is part of the process of empowerment, and is a source of inspiration and a positive model for girls.

        Italy, for its part, is in the process of applying a portion of the European recovery funds to programs with such goals that also aim to involve civil society in gender gap projects in a range of sectors. What’s more, the case of Italy has long been marked by insufficient funding for technological and scientific research. It is thus imperative that innovative efforts to create more opportunities for women increase by framing the gender gap issue within the broader context of in-depth transformation that will benefit the entire country and society. In light of these political, economic and social priorities, the ten scholarships made available by Aspen Institute Italia are intended to foster inclusive education and a new cultural approach to the role of women.