Breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ in STEM

Deloitte's initiatives
By Team Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Deloitte Italia
18 Oct 2023

‘I have never hidden the fact that I have faced more than one difficulty because of the supposed weakness of the fair sex. “It's not for women,” I've been told. To be fair, I have always defended myself, because women have a way of thinking that is complementary to men's, which in space can make things a lot easier.’ With these words, Amalia Ercoli Finzi, the first woman in Italy with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and former Director of the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano, highlighted a sex stereotype that remains too deeply rooted. The bias that leads to the belief that there are men's jobs and women's jobs hinders female talent in the fields of engineering, science, technology and mathematics.

This is the finding of the second STEM Observatory study ‘Rethink STE(A)M education - A sustainable future through scientific, tech and humanistic skills,’ sponsored by Deloitte Foundation and Deloitte's Public Policy Programme. The research was presented in 2022 and aims to identify concrete solutions to support students who choose STEM pathways. Research shows that while a growing number of university graduates are female, STEM faculties remain male-dominated. Factors that affect the numbers of women in these faculties include cognitive and perceptual biases and cultural stereotypes: 50% of female students surveyed acknowledged that there are sex stereotypes that disincentivise women from embarking on a STEM education pathway.

To spread stories of women who have defeated sex-based biases and prejudice, revolutionising their cultures and ours, on the occasion of International Women's Day 2023, Deloitte Italy's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Team wrote and published the podcast Yes She Can. One episode is dedicated to two women in STEM who are points of reference in the field of engineering: Mary Winston Jackson and Samantha Cristoforetti. Jackson became NASA's first black female engineer in 1958 and played a central role in Project Mercury and the Apollo programme. In 1979, noting how far women still were from breaking the glass ceiling at Langley, she became the administrator of NASA's Women's Programme, enabling the hiring and growth of female scientists, programmers, mathematicians and engineers. Samantha Cristoforetti, on the other hand, became the first European woman and third in the world to command the International Space Station, with Expedition 68 in 2022.

The episode also features an interview with a fellow Digital Strategist who became a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Ambassador and part of Deloitte's Women in Tech Community. 

From March 8, 2023, this and other episodes are available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts to anyone who wants to be inspired by stories of women who have broken down stereotypes in historically male-dominated industries.

Networking and female empowerment opportunities often arise within Deloitte's network to promote sex equity in the world of technology. Against this backdrop, the Women in Tech Community was born in 2018, and now includes about 240 female professionals at Deloitte. Women in Tech are involved in various initiatives designed to bring more women closer to the fields of tech and digital. The mission of this community is expressed in three words: ‘connect, engage and empower.’ ‘Connect’ stands for sharing ideas, information and know-how that can be of help to the rest of the community; ‘engage’ indicates the mutual support and exchange of information that can arise from a network of people united by a passion for technology; and finally, ‘empower’ invokes the opportunity for Women in Tech to be inspirational role models for young women who wish to pursue STEM careers.

In recent years, a growing number of networking events have been organised in partnership with SheTech, a nonprofit that aims to contribute concretely to making the digital and tech world increasingly equitable. One such initiative is the SheTech Coding Bootcamp powered by Deloitte, a training bootcamp to pass on the basics of JavaScript to aspiring young female programmers, supported by mentors from Deloitte's Women in Tech. In addition, since 2020, several Women in Tech have been led a series of inspirational breakfasts, the #SheTechBreakfasts, which are interviews carried out as Instagram Live broadcasts, in which Deloitte's role models share insights and talk about their professional experiences in different STEM fields.

Helping to break down barriers in the STEM world is part of our ALL IN global inclusion strategy, and it is a goal that Deloitte, at the European level, is also committed to pursuing through a series of events organised in collaboration with the European Commission, the European Innovation Executive Agency, SMEs (EISMEA) and the European Women's Association. Deloitte Italy's network has, in fact, been involved in setting up next year's ESTEAM Fest (ESTEAM stands for Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), an event that aims to improve women's digital and entrepreneurial skills, following in the footsteps of the ESTEAM Fests already organised previously by Deloitte Belgium, Deloitte Poland and Deloitte Greece.

With these initiatives, Deloitte wants to encourage women, from an early age, to follow their passion for STEM subjects, conveying the message that no avenue should be closed to them.

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