Girls discovering new horizons

A special initiative with GirslGetSET gave several secondary schools, from Southern to Northern Italy, the opportunity to meet women active in technology and high-profile careers. 

Jun 2024

When we think about the world of work or about career paths, we often refer to data - such as those of employment, especially youth employment - and statistics on education and training. For example, according to last year's ISTAT report, in Italy only 16.6% of young women aged 25-34 graduate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines. But training and fostering our own professional vocations eventually, takes place well before the university years.

"It is important to act on the ecosystem, to remove the prejudices that unfortunately still keep young girls away from scientific subjects," says Marika Esposito, HR Lean Leader at Avio Aero, speaking of how girls have often already embarked on non-scientific courses of study since high school and consider it too late or complicated to express different vocations. "For this reason, and analyzing our data, we decided to start with middle school girls who have plenty of time to think and choose what they want to do."

Esposito, in fact, along with her work in the HR department, is also part of the company’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion council. An internal body made up of employees who support various working groups active on crucial issues in large modern organizations: from inclusion to diversity to the promotion of a culture of equality.  "Last year we achieved an important goal with the UNI PDR 125/2022 gender certification," explains Esposito, "we obtained a good score, but we want to reach the highest score and therefore we need to improve the number of women in the company."

Following the operating model adopted by the entire company, Avio Aero's DEI council used to measure its results to identify areas for improvement and aim for a goal, in this case: to increase women's career opportunities at every level and, considering the sector in which the company operates, to promote STEM careers.

The school girls attending a presentation by Andrea Lo Schirico, on the left standing up Marika Esposito.

"Thanks to GirslGetSET, we expect to give more opportunities to girls, who can get to know the experience of working in technology, industry (or aeronautics in our case) from such a young age and have time to cultivate their talents," explains Esposito.

GirlsGetSET is an international program active in the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, which offers educational support and introduction to the world of work for young girls. The goal of GirslGetSET is to inspire girls to consider career opportunities in science, technical, and engineering through cultural or professional development programs.

Avio Aero's DEI has therefore identified an opportunity in the collaboration with GirslGetSET and has also taken advantage of the experience of colleagues at GE Aerospace in Cheltenham, which has been part of this program since 2011, the year it was founded. “I first encountered GirslGetSET through my school STEM club. I loved Maths and Science in school and the STEM club was a fun way to engage in those subjects. As well as making boomerangs and egg parachutes, we took part in some of their activities run by the local GE Aerospace site in Cheltenham. I still remember the first GGS project I took part in: we had to design a water catcher for a third world country”, says Margaret Pang, a Software Engineer in Cheltenham.

Pang attended a Girls Day at GE Aerospace in Cheltenham, enrolling in an engineering degree apprenticeship she took as an alternative to the university: after five years, she joined the team in Cheltenham in her current role. “That first Girls Day showed me that there were many other girls my age that were similar to me and enjoyed STEM, which I had not previously realized being in a small STEM group in an all-girls school. It was through GGS that my stereotypes started to change about who could be an engineer” adds Pang.

An image from the GirlsDay in 2013 at GE Aerospace in Cheltenham, Margaret Pang is on the left.

"It was through GirslGetSET that my stereotypes started to change about who could be an engineer"

Avio Aero worked on a similar project together with the Baker Hughes headquarters in Vibo Valentia (Southern Italy). "A few weeks ago, we met 43 12-year-old girls from four different middle schools, two in the Turin area and two from Vibo Valentia, in Calabria," says Esposito.  In fact, middle school girls, both from northern and southern Italy, shared the same path that included masterclasses in technology and soft skills, visits to laboratories and the factory, and a research project for decarbonization in schools.

"A delegation of Baker Hughes colleagues came to visit us in Turin, while some of our Avio Aero experts went to Vibo Valentia. The girls were guided on a tour of our central plant in Rivalta and the additive technology laboratory at the Politecnico di Torino," adds Esposito, "they were impressed by the microscopes, X-rays and chemical experiments, which they were able to see during the visits to the plants."

The two schools involved in northern Italy are the Maria Ausiliatrice in Giaveno (a town in the Turin’s province) and the Baricco Institute in Turin. The teachers at the schools were just as enthusiastic as the students. "An important experience, beneficial for orientation as well as for the approach of female students to STEM subjects as it allows them to discover interests, potential, talents and attitudes useful for future choices," said Maria Antonietta Roma, head teacher of the Baricco institute.

The visit at the Avio Aero Turin Additive Laboratory.

"Approaching the world of work and seeing how the study content is realized in company projects makes the disciplines more interesting. In addition, programs such as GGS dispel the myth that only boys can be suitable for certain jobs," commented the principal, who also appreciated how the students were motivated by the initiative and shared their feelings and returns with other classmates at school.

For example, Lavinia of Baricco's II B considers that the experience has broadened her horizons. "It was very nice to see the work environment up close, we understood better that we have to chase our dreams without being afraid of stereotypes," said Lavinia, together with her mate Bianca, who was fascinated by metals and large 3D printers at the Polytechnic laboratory. "I loved listening to the girls talk about what they'd gone through to get there."

"An important experience, beneficial for orientation as well as for the approach of female students to STEM disciplines as it allows them to discover interests, potential, talents and attitudes useful for future choices"

For Avio Aero it is very important to collaborate with schools, especially looking to the future to re-propose the program and expand it to a greater number of schools, also considering how much it has meant for teachers. "School, especially secondary school - where the desires and aspirations of girls and boys are increasingly taking shape and concreteness - is undoubtedly the space for experimentation and discovery that helps to effectively understand what the path can be," said Professor Maria Cristina Bongiovanni of the Maria Ausiliatrice school.

According to Professor Bongiovanni, such programs not only integrate perfectly with the educational objectives of the year, but also make a crucial contribution to the formation of the individual, at 360 degrees. "Girls realize that there are many more possibilities than imagined or considered until then, perhaps by convection, and that they can develop their skills to go much further than they had intended, also increasing their self-esteem and confidence," she added.

The students visiting the Avio Aero metallurgical laboratories.

“It was very nice to see the work environment up close, we understood better that we have to chase our dreams without being afraid of stereotypes”

And the students of the Maria Ausiliatrice have grasped the meaning of their teacher's words: "the girls who work at Avio Aero have provided us with new teachings and points of view, so that now we look at the world with different eyes, more aware and open to new experiences," said Viktoria of II A.

The satisfaction of Marika Esposito and the Avio Aero team involved in the activities of GirslGetSET is palpable and summed up in Esposito's final comment. "When we asked the girls on the first day of the program how many of them would like to be engineers, none of them said yes; On the last day we asked the same question again and found a future aerospace engineer and a chemical engineer. We want to discover many more and from many other cities."