For over a year now, we have been losing our social skills and transferring human contact to computer and smartphone screens. Despite this, digital skills for (re)entering the world of work are still not very attractive. For women in particular. So many of our activities have slipped online. From school to yoga classes, from shopping to nights out with friends. Yet, as all-encompassing as technology is, and as crucial as understanding innovation is to facing the future, a dramatic shortage of digital skills persists. And even if the innovation sectors are already driving demand for jobs beyond the crisis, the gap between the skills required and the preparation of the profiles is very clear. It is also surprising to note the percentage of women who turn to these sectors when looking for work. Within 10 years, many of the professions people have today will not even exist, but they will almost certainly imply a deep understanding and technique in the use of technology, digital technology and science. Like all revolutions, the change will be drastic, speeded up by this pandemic that has called into question the existing economic model and given rise to new habits and needs.
In terms of diversity, what is happening now is making an already full glass overflow: women are lagging far behind in this revolution. They make less use of technology, are less inclined to follow STEM courses when they choose to go on to higher education and, consequently, to study in depth the languages that will enable them to develop in the future. In Italy, and also compared to the rest of the world, female students achieve lower results than their peers: according to Pisa 2018 data, cited in a recent piece on Alley Oop in Il Sole 24 Ore, our country continues to have one of the largest gender gaps (only Costa Rica and Colombia are worse) and the numerical skills of a graduate between the ages of 40 and 60 are comparable to those of a Japanese student at the end of secondary school. These differences in knowledge, coupled with gender differences, are part of a dangerous process: half of the workforce is left out of the game and will be even more so in the near future if nothing is done. The gap between those who have access to and understand the new languages and those who will never encounter them will become even wider.
In Italy, the social lift has stopped, where it is not actually descending. It becomes crucial then to involve younger generations and make them aware of the existing possibilities. According to Ersilia Vaudo Scarpetta, the ESA’s Chief Diversity Officer, “Boys and girls who convince themselves that they are not gifted are an expression of pedagogical failure and family and social stereotypes. […] If they think they don’t have what it takes, it is our duty as a country to bring them to us. Greater inclusion in mathematics equals a stronger democracy, a stronger economy, less inequality, and many more opportunities, real and fairer, to prepare for the future before it happens”. What has a greater emotional impact than space to make people face the future with optimism? Based on these principles, together with Ersilia Vaudo and the other founding members, we have created the association Il cielo itinerante (The Travelling Sky), to “bring the sky where it does not arrive”. Inspired by the example of The Traveling Telescope by Susan Murabana, president of our scientific committee, we will tour the areas where the discomfort is most evident, with a telescope mounted on a van. We want to inspire new generations of girls to take an interest in the skills of tomorrow through direct experience. The first tour will start in Sicily, then travel to Calabria, Puglia, the earthquake-struck areas of the Marche, and then end at the Rimini meeting.
If we change the perspective of even one person, we will have instilled a spark that may be capable of leading to an innovation that will improve our understanding of the universe, the discovery that will advance medical studies, the vision that will perfect the unfolding of democracy towards a fairer society.