Professors Pulino and Salvatore Participate in gURLs! a Roundtable on Women in IT

gURLs! Who codes the world?

gURLs! Who codes the world?

JCU business professors Antonella Salvatore and Silvia Pulino participated in a roundtable called “gURLs! Who codes the world?” on April 22, 2021. Organized by LogicAcademy, the roundtable was part of a week of events and workshops dedicated to the IT/ICT (Information Technology/Information and Communications Technologies) field, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the “International Girls in ICT Day.” The initiative aims at encouraging a female audience to pursue an education or a career in the digital field.

Professor Pulino, who is also the Director of the JCU Institute for Entrepreneurship, began her presentation, called “L’ICT femminile: un imperativo morale ed economico” (Female ICT: a moral and economic imperative), by mentioning women who had an impact in the ICT field since the early 1800s. Ada Lovelace Byron (1815-1850), the first female programmer in history; Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992), who contributed to the creation of the COBOL programming language; Sister Mary Kenneth Keller (1913-1985), an ICT pioneer who participated in the implementation of the BASIC language; Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000), who co-invented a system to control torpedoes from a distance; Karen Sparck Jones (1935-2007), a British computer scientist responsible for the technology behind most modern-day search engines; Radia Perlman (1951-), who came up with the “spanning tree protocol (STP);” Adele Goldberg (1945-), who developed the SmallTalk programming language; Anita Borg (1949-2003), who heavily advocated for the presence of women in ICT.

Professor Pulino presented data from a 2018 EU report and from the INFOSEC Institute, showing that the number of women who pursue a degree in the ICT field decreased between 2011 and 2018. Moreover, according to the data, women make up for only 17% of workers in the digital field, and on average, they earn 20% less than men in the same position. Also, men are nine times more likely than women to have a managerial position.

According to the World Economic Forum and a Global Gender Gap Report, in Italy, the ICT field represents only 2.5% of the workforce, compared to 5% in the U.K., and over 6% in Finland and Sweden. The average in Europe is 3.5%. Italy ranks 76th in terms of women in the ICT field, down from 70th in 2017. In terms of pay equality, Italy is in the 125th place, and 55th regarding women’s educational competencies. Only 19% of workers in the ICT field have a woman as their supervisor, compared to 45% in other fields.

The gender and salary gap in the ICT field impacts professional development opportunities. The gender gap causes a loss of talent, vision, resources, and wealth. It also has an impact on innovation and entrepreneurship, valued at around 9 billion euros in Europe alone. By 2024, 56% of employees will need to possess digital skills to be productive in the workplace.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, before the pandemic, innovative startups were growing by 9% each year, with 75% of startups operating in the ICT sector; businesses led by women amounted to only 22% of the total. According to Professor Pulino, Italy is limiting its economic potential because it is disregarding a good portion of female talent.

Professor Pulino concluded by saying that we need to work on improving the situation. We need to change our cultural perspective and value diversity, respect, and merit, change the way schools tackle education in the ICT field, and the political ecosystem. She added that we need more female role models in ICT.

Professor Antonella Salvatore, who is the Director of the Center for Continuing Education and Career Services at JCU, talked about “ICT e occupazione femminile, una questione di soft skills,” (ICT and female occupation, a matter of soft skills). She began her presentation with a quote by German psychologist and author Ute Ehrhardt (1956-), who, in a book with the same title, famously said “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”

Professor Salvatore presented data from the Women in Digital Scoreboard, according to which, in the first quarter of 2021, female occupation in Italy amounted to 48.4%, and that only 18% of European women were employed in the ICT field. In terms of digital gender equality in Europe, Italy holds the fourth to last spot, which is 12 positions below the continent’s average. Only 18% of girls who graduate high school choose to continue their education in STEM fields.

Professor Salvatore explained that unfortunately, gender stereotypes such as women being less rational than men, less suitable for jobs in the field of technology, less analytical than men, and better suited for humanistic studies are still present in the country. She reiterated that learning abilities are not influenced by gender, but rather by the presence of analytical and creative skills, attention to detail, and other factors. Behavioral competencies such as confidence, leadership, and self-awareness, among other things, are also essential and can be learned and developed.

Professor Salvatore also discussed hierarchical segregation or the fact that men are much more likely than women to be in positions of authority, and the “Matilda Effect,” a bias against acknowledging the achievements of women scientists whose work is instead attributed to their male colleagues. Female occupation in the ICT field is a cultural matter, and we should work to make changes. She added that one way to start doing so would be to place more importance on teaching soft skills, which in Italy are not as emphasized as hard skills.

According to Professors Salvatore and Pulino, John Cabot University fosters an environment where young women can express their potential and develop their soft skills. In 2020 81% of the students and alumni who obtained a position through the JCU Center for Career Services were women.