According to information from the fifth Global Media Monitoring Project, an international research project on female visibility in information channels, the media addresses women as “authoritative sources” in only 19% of cases; 18% in Italy. And the percentage is even lower – 10% – if one narrows the search to experts in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), notwithstanding a great number of women hold high positions in these sectors.
The website www.100esperte.it was officially launched on 3 November 2016 at the Genova Science Festival (Festival della scienza di Genova), and constitutes an online database containing the profiles of one hundred experts in STEM areas who are ready to exhibit their wealth of knowledge and competencies. This website is an incredibly useful instrument for female professionals to gain voice and publicize their work, as well as the role of females in research, as each expert has her own page with information related to her current employment, career path, scientific interests, awards and recognition received, plus a list of published works.
The “100 women against stereotypes” project, after which the platform is modeled, was promoted by two journalists from the association Gi.U.Li.A (Giornaliste Unite Libere e Autonome) at the Monitoring Center of Pavia, Italy; the monitoring center is a research institute that analyzes communication, in partnership with GENDERS Research Center and Wikimedia Italia, in collaboration with the Bracco Foundation, and with support from the European Commission Representative in Italy.
An article that contains an interview with Monia Azzalini was published in OggiScienza, a magazine dedicated to Italian and international scientific research. Monia Azzalini is one of the project’s founders, as well as head of the Media and Gender department of the Monitoring Center of Pavia. In the interview contained in OggiScienza, Azzalini explains why and how the project came into being, its future potential and current developments.
Concerning our Hypatia project, we are happy to have included some of these realities in the Italian Gender and STEM hub, and we hope that 100 esperte.it will be a valid resource for all of us in the museum, and for schools.
How did you come up with the idea for 100 women against stereotypes?
I got the idea a few years ago, and it comes from a thought I share with Luisella Seveso and Giovanna Pezzuoli, Gi.U.Li.A journalists and co-founders of the project. The idea came from reading a series of data that show females have scarse presence in information channels, especially with reference to female experts. In Italy, this has always been blamed on the excessive exhibition of female bodies, particularly directed at the commercialization of women in media spaces. Instead, thorough research has never been done to unveil one of the principle problems: the lack of professional female voices in media..
We’re dealing with a question that has its roots in the past. Up until half a century ago, professions – especially in the media – that explained events and interpreted the world and society were occupied exclusively by men. Now the world has changed. There are many women that work in the fields of economics, law, psychology or engineering, yet we see them very little in the media. When consulting the sources, the information channels continuously point to men, as if experts were male by default. We told ourselves that it was necessary to rid ourselves of the excuse that female professionals don’t exist, or that they are difficult to contact. By doing so we would eliminate this alibi and revamp the agenda of the more senior generations of journalists. Thus we thought of creating a database with the names of important professionals who were willing to be interviewed.
Why did you decide to begin with experts in STEM areas?
Because the scientific-technological sector is strafeci for the country’s development. Italy invests too little in scientific research. The so-called “brain drain” comes predominately from this environment. Some of the scientists in our database work abroad. And then there’s the social prejudice: still strong and wide spread, even in this day and age. Many believe that women aren’t cut out for science-based subjects. This prejudice needs to change. In the end, we decided to launch our database with STEM experts because selecting who to insert would be easier. In this sector, careers are made clearly: by title and merit. It’s very difficult for a different logic (for example, co-opting) to enter into the game. The objective for 2017 is therefore to expand the database to include experts in other fields, such as economics, financial, historical and artistic sectors.
How were the experts chosen?
The GENDERS Center at the University of Milan (Università degli Studi di Milano) chose the experts. They were selected according to rigorous and transparent criteria, using different parameters according to whether the experts came from an academic or professional environment. Experts coming from academia were selected according to their number of published works in national and international scientific magazines, while experts coming from the field were evaluated according to their patents and original inventions. The candidatures were also submitted to and evaluated by a scientific committee composed by three men and four women who work in scientific fields and hold various titles. In particular, they are: Telmo Pievani (scientific philosopher), Cristina Messa (Professor of Diagnostic Imaging, as well as researcher for Università Milano‑Bicocca), Silvia Bencivelli (scientific journalist and essayist), Gilberto Corbellini (Professor of Bioethics and History of Medicine at Università La Sapienza), Donatella Sciuto (Professor of Architecture of Calculators and Operating Systems at Politecnico di Milano), Alberto Quadrio Curzio (President of the Lynx Academy [Accademia dei Lincei]) and Daniela Falcinelli (Coordinator at Centro GENDERS and Professor of Sociology of Equal Opportunity at Università di Milano).
Who is the site’s target audience?
The site aims to be, above all, an instrument for journalists so that they can turn to more broad, competent information sources. It’s a question of equality, but also one of innovation: listening to the women who, in recent years, have been excluded from the media means giving voice to different perspectives, to different points of view. But the site isn’t intended just for the media. It’s also for public and private enterprises that organize conferences, seminars, round tables. We aren’t able to monitor every event, but we have observed that – in the majority of cases – only men speak at these events. This vicious cycle must be interrupted. Therefore we hope that the database will also be utilized by local establishments, foundations, communities, schools. Our platform strives to give visibility to women that can become role models for the new generations.
“Cento esperte al di sopra di ogni stereotipo“, Le Scienze, October 2016
“100 donne contro gli stereotipi: uno strumento per dare voce alle esperte, a partire dalla scienza“, Fondazione Bracco website
“100 donne contro gli stereotipi: online la banca dati che dà voce alle scienziate italiane“, Oggiscienza, November 2016