Darya Majidi and Connected Sisterhood: towards the empowerment of women in STEM
by Chiara Zennaro
The report drawn up by Talents Venture and STEAMiamoci in 2020 shows that during the 2018/2019 academic year, the percentage of women enrolled in the three-year STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degree courses in Italy constitutes 37% of newcomers. However, in the 2020/2021 year, this figure recorded a very slow growth, as 2000 more people enrolled in the 65 technical-scientific faculties, and most of these new students were women.
Despite the enrollment increase in the STEM faculties, with 1 out of 5 women choosing a technical-scientific faculty, Italy is still far from the European average of 1 in 3 women.
According to Darya Majidi, an Iranian-born Italian entrepreneur and writer who graduated from the University of Pisa in Information Sciences with a specialization in artificial intelligence, inclusion in the scientific/economic field is fundamental, just as specific technological skills are essential for female empowerment and more. Majidi, listed by D di Repubblica among the “100 women changing the world,” is convinced that more and more women must fill roles in the high ranks of scientific professions and participate in technological innovation, because the new systems have proven not to be completely immune from discrimination.
“We are experiencing the fourth industrial revolution – explained Majidi, currently CEO and owner of the Daxo Group, a Digital Transformation consulting company that supports businesses in their growth, and of the Daxo Lab, an emanation of the previous one – enabling technologies, mobile [solutions], and the internet of things are creating new professions, while others will disappear. We will be facing a digital mismatch: millions of jobs will be vacant, but qualified resources will be lacking. Data scientists, programmers, cybersecurity experts will be sought. There will be a “non-meeting” between supply and demand. For women, who, as we have seen, only study STEM subjects in a small percentage, the problem is even greater, and we are talking about a gender digital mismatch.”
Women, therefore, find themselves totally unprepared to face the new demands of the world of work, and in the book Sorellanza Digitale: Femminismo 4.0 tecnologico e inclusivo per una nuova alleanza tra donne e uomini [Connected Sisterhood: Feminism 4.0 technological and inclusive for a new alliance between women and men] (distributed on Amazon) Majidi explains the three elements [Awareness, Culture, Community] that are necessary for an actual cultural change in this area – and to be added to the three mentioned in her novel Donne 4.0 [Women 4.0]: Courage, Competence, and Heart.
“[In Italy, women have] a problem of non-Awareness: they live in a context that is hostile to them, but they behave as if the rules of the game were based on equality. In the Sorellanza Digitale book, I have included the elevator metaphor to explain this point better: men get on without looking at who is inside. Women first check who is inside, and if they are not convinced, they do not go up and skip the ride. This symbology shows how often women self-preclude experiences of growth, travel, taking on specific roles, out of fear and a sense of inadequacy.”
In Sorellanza Digitale, it is clear how the reasons for this disparity are rooted in the Culture they are immersed in, and in education. For example, Majidi insists that “From childhood, messages are inspired by different incentives. For girls: ‘Be good, be careful, be safe, don’t go out.’ On the contrary, boys are encouraged to ‘Go, take every challenge, and win.’ Sexist and oppressive cultures can also be fought thanks to scientific culture.”
Majidi is convinced that the internet can provide female victims of violence the opportunity to create a Community and escape isolation. “Through the internet, communities can give a voice to those who don’t have it and instill courage. An example of this is the #metoo movement, which could unite many women, nurture a passion for a common cause, and share values,” she added.
For Darya Majidi, Digital Transformation is not just a problem of information systems but also a cultural change. “I realized that all these artificial intelligence and big data systems can be very dangerous if not governed in the right way. They can be sexist or racist,” she explained.
“Being the mirror of reality and being built by men, artificial intelligence systems can embed gender and racial biases and perpetuate the image of a stereotyped reality, through data that can contain biases that involve exclusion and discrimination of certain categories of people. We must focus on diversity & inclusion,” said the entrepreneur.
That is why, according to Majidi, it is necessary to conduct what she calls “a battle for power”: the control of technology should no longer be relegated to the hands of a few white men but include the experiences of other categories of people. A cultural change in this sense cannot be separated from filling the gaps of empowerment and leadership in the technological field.