It’s easy to think that your experiences are the norm, but that’s not always the case. Culture can have a massive impact on how women progress through the life sciences, and that varies dramatically between different countries — today, we’ll look at Italy.
A recent conversation between Lift Up Ambassador, Sophie Packer, and Napo Therapeutics CRO, Annabella Amatulli, highlighted some major issues in Italian culture that prevent a significant amount of women from entering the Life Sciences.
We’re going to explore the following topics below:
- Further Studies
- Annabella’s Career Advice
Italian Working Culture
When asked about the culture in Italy, Annabella revealed, “the mindset is really men-focussed; the patriarchy is still in place”. For those who aren’t Italian nationals, what does that actually mean?
For one thing, when someone has to stop working in order to look after the family, it’s automatically a woman who has to make the sacrifice. This was never more prevalent than during the Covid Pandemic, when around 80% of working women left to take care of their families.
Annabella attributes that as one of the reasons why Italy struggled financially throughout the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, this cultural mindset is damaging to both men and women. They both feel intense societal pressure to behave in a certain way, whether or not that aligns with who they truly are.
Of course, one of the biggest concerns caused by the culture is the lack of awareness surrounding women’s issues. Annabella put it perfectly with:
“We need to spread awareness, and then we can transform that awareness into action.”
Because it’s not enough for people to just be aware of the issues, we need to work together to come up with a suitable solution. Both the conversation and action require everyone’s input to overcome these global and systemic issues. In fact, Annabella continues, “You cannot speak only with women and say ‘we found the solution’, it does not work.”
The Part International Organisations Play
International organisations are in a unique position to enact cultural change through their business practices. Since they benefit from multicultural talent, they also become a melting pot of different cultures, beliefs, and experiences.
It’s becoming more common to see women rise up towards leadership positions, which in turn is affecting Italian attitudes.
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that there’s still a stigma associated with women in the workplace. That means, especially in Italy, women need the courage and confidence to overcome societal pressures if they want to reach great heights in their careers.
Many factors that prevent women from entering the STEM fields and the Life Sciences originate in childhood. From a young age, both boys and girls are being pushed towards archaic gender norms.
For instance, where boys are given blue cars, girls are given pink dolls. As these groups set in, children typically mould their own interests to fit in with their peers.
Annabella recounts that as a child, she loved playing with cars. When she reached a certain age, however, she asked her mum for a ‘Barbie Party’ so she could better connect with the other girls at school.
These types of situations happen all over the world, and it’s common for children to be fickle about their interests — but we need to watch out for when they are compromising their own identities. If it happens frequently at a young age, it can become an unconscious habit, impacting them later in life.
One incredible statistic that Annabella brought up was that in Italy, 54% of female teenagers wanted to pursue a scientific path. This was followed by one far more heartbreaking; only around 20% of female teenagers follow through on this desire.
That’s a jaw-dropping amount of young women who are not following their passions. Instead, parents and cultural norms push them towards the humanities.
Upon visiting a school for International Women’s Day, Annabella asked the girls what they were planning to do in their studies. Roughly 90% responded with “my mama decides for me.”
By taking the choice away from young women at such a vital stage, they are losing agency over their lives. In fact, one girl, in particular, revealed that she was both good at and passionate about Maths. Despite this, she was still forced to follow more ‘traditional’ studies.
In a culture where people aren’t allowed to make such integral decisions for themselves, it creates a ‘generational loop’. One generation impacts the next, making change that much harder to enact.
Annabella’s Career Advice
Annabella repeatedly noted how important risk-taking was to progress her career. While she’s been supported by both men and women, which has enabled her to reach greater heights, she had to take risks — frequently.
In order to keep herself going, Annabella took inspiration from various female scientists. These were all women who had fantastic ideas, and made significant contributions to science, but only by fighting to have their voices heard.
It’s important to remember that fear is normal — but you have to understand when you’re capable of doing a job. It’s easy to feel like you’re not ready, or that you need more experience, but you’re better off just taking the risk and going for it.
If you need help in this area, check our guide for finding a mentor.
And before you commit to join the initiative, why not read more about Lift Up: Women in Life Sciences?
What’s the worst that could happen?