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Women in STEM and AI: a view from Puglia

Women in STEM and AI: a view from Puglia

10 April 2024
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Female digital empowerment is a key issue for Fincons, which has been committed to trying to reduce the gender gap in the IT sector for some time through various initiatives. The overall landscape shows that, despite the increase of women in science faculties, only 30% of occupations in STEM (science, technology, engineering and computer science) fields are women (WEF 2023 data), while in non-STEM occupations the percentage of women employed is 49.3 percent.

Even in Italy, despite the funding opportunities and specific goals of the NRP, female-dominated startups have grown little, rising only from 13.17% to 13.71% from 2021 to 2023. In Europe, only one in ten workers in tech are female and in Italy specifically the issue conflates with a broader one of employment: one in two women are out of work entirely, a figure that rises to two out of three in Puglia.

This is an important gap that needs to be bridged before the advent of new technologies such as AI makes it even wider. AI is in fact just the latest in new technologies that women need to be rapidly trained in to ensure they have the digital skills required for the workplace of the future. AI has a huge potential but also carries risks in terms of bias and new skill development for women.

Fincons’ efforts on this front include taking part in and supporting events such as the recent Puglia Women AI event, designed to offer women at all stages of their career a chance to improve their AI skills and connect with companies that operate in technology and digitalisation. Fincons supported the event and also contributed to the various training and debates. This event represented another unmissable opportunity for a company as committed to inclusion as Fincons, to bring women of any age and background closer to technology and AI specifically. Participants met dozens of new people, made new friends and networked while also liaising with the virtuous companies from Puglia and beyond, who, like Fincons Group, champion women in tech.

For the second year running, the event was organised by a group of determined women, Puglia Women Lead, that painted the town of Bari pink from 22nd to 24th March.

We took this opportunity to ask Gaia Costantino, Co-founder and President of Puglia Women Lead, her experience in working on these themes: “Gaining the right qualifications to stand out from their male counterparts is of critical importance, but so is providing ongoing mentorship, training in new technologies like AI and support to help women overcome social constraints such as ‘impostor syndrome’. Events like 'Puglia Women in AI' aim to do just this.

I am originally from Puglia, but my studies in management engineering soon took me away from my territory and to Turin. A series of international professional experiences, including working on my thesis in Silicon Valley, cemented this distance and kept me out of Puglia for a whole 15 years,” she explains. “In some ways – continues Gaia - this initial experience abroad is what planted the seed for what we have built here in Puglia as the interest in getting more women in tech through improving skills was already thriving in the US. I have always wanted to fight the Gender Dream Gap, which involves girls from an early age, leading them to experience a gap in dreams and prospects for the future compared to children.”

I thus started devoting more and more of my time to female empowerment in the workplace and co-founded Girls in Tech Italia with the objective of consolidating STEM skills among women as well as providing mentorship and coaching programmes. We later founded Puglia Women Lead in 2021 when I returned to my region of origin, Puglia,” she reports.

With the creation of Puglia Women Lead, we wanted to involve companies in this process right from the start. In addition to working towards increasing the appeal of STEM professions for women, by breaking down traditional barriers and stereotypes that begin to affect young girls from a very early age, businesses need to get involved by supporting women to remain in business after starting a family, opening up businesses and challenging the status quo is a community effort that starts within the home but is also supported by businesses providing credible and happy role models of women in STEM that are able to balance their personal and professional lives, aiming for clear career progression. Fincons Group is a company that has chosen to support our objectives and that works with women and young people with a special focus on Southern Italy- a key area of untapped potential. Supporting Puglia women engineers will ultimately help drive overall productivity and commercial opportunities for the whole region as well as hopefully contributing to setting a golden standard for the whole of Italian tech to model,” Gaia concludes.

Gaia Costantino - Author of the Fincons Blog Gaia Costantino

Puglia Women Lead

Co-founder and President