Women beyond the stars

What do an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, 400 million kilometres from the Sun and an elegant lady from Gallarate in northern Italy born in the late 1930s have in common? 
Since 2018, the asteroid in question has borne the name Amalia Ercoli Finzi, as a tribute to the scientist working in the field of space flight mechanics. It was in particular the Rosetta mission (2004-2016) that made her famous. For the mission, Dr. Finzi built the SD2, an instrument designed to drill and collect soil samples of the comet for analysis. 
The “Lady of Comets”, as she has been dubbed, was and remains a pioneer and she continues to look to the future as she grapples with a project to land a human crew on Mars. 

A pioneer woman in the conquest of space

Amalia Ercoli Finzi’s path was highly unusual, considering the era in which she was educated: when she decided to attend the Aeronautical Engineering course at the Polytechnic of Milan, there were only 5 women enrolled out of a total of 650 students.
Being a woman in a sector that seemed, as she describes it, a “stronghold of men”, was undoubtedly the main obstacle in this long journey. Nevertheless, in the early 1960s Amalia became the first woman aeronautical engineer in Italy. And, as if by a curious conjunction of the stars, while Gagarin set off on his first mission into space, she was teaching at the Polytechnic the fundamentals of mechanics that underlie space flight.
At a time when it was almost impossible to think of the concept of “career” as compatible with that of “woman”, our woman engineer made her way to the top and became a leading figure in the field of space flight mechanics, working for NASA, ASI and ESA. Today she is considered one of the leading experts in aerospace engineering.
Her contribution to scientific progress does not end there, as Amalia became a role model capable of inspiring new generations of women.

New languages for the worlds of the future

While it is still necessary to overcome many gender stereotypes, virtuous models to take inspiration from are fortunately on the increase. For girls, this identification process has an increasingly undisputed positive impact in the field of careers in science. Amalia Ercoli Finzi says “we have to create opportunities for young women who want to get into these worlds of the future. STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), are a language that, once learnt, can open up many avenues by which one can change the world”. As her own story shows, choices that go against the grain often help fight prejudice and contribute to social change. Proof of this is also the fact that her brilliant career did not prevent her from becoming a mother of five children and then the grandmother of seven grandchildren. 
Balancing work time and family responsibilities is one of the goals Eni has been pursuing for a long time through concrete measures, such as setting up creches close to workplaces with pioneering pedagogical approaches to encourage the development of all languages
As a mother, Amalia also always encouraged her children to follow their inclinations and talents and to choose between “dolls and Meccano”.

Her daughter Elvina, a nuclear engineer, is perhaps the one who has followed in her footsteps most closely. She grew up in an environment where, as she recounts, every topic of conversation became scientific, and considers mathematical logic a fundamental tool for overcoming seemingly insurmountable problems. 
Today, she supports her mother in encouraging the new generations of women to pursue studies in their favourite fields.  They exhort women to find their own voice, regardless of external conditioning and without precluding themselves from study and career paths for fear of failure. 
Elvina Finzi advocates the creation of more opportunities for women and firmly believes that the recipe for success is based on five principles: self-esteem, solid knowledge, ambition, a spirit of co-operation and the ability focus on the essential. Her mother Amalia adds one last ingredient: spirit of initiative, knowing how to seize an opportunity when it arises, because the important thing is to dare. After all, having an enterprising spirit is the only way to go beyond the stars.

Amalia Ercoli Finzi and Elvina Finzi: gender stereotypes and a passion

According to recent data from the Italian Statistical Office (ISTAT), the percentage of females enrolled in STEM-related university courses is 8.8% (compared to 30.3% for males). Eni's contribution to the recognition of female talent in science and technology is aimed at promoting initiatives for the training of young women in these fields, such as Coding Girls, WomenX Impact, Digital Talent Fair - STEM GIRLS, Inspiring Girls, by strengthening partnerships over the years with initiatives such as CyberTrials, which targets Italian female students in secondary schools, and OliCyber.IT, the Italian Cybersecurity Olympics.
In Italy, the percentage of women working in engineering is still fairly low (19%) and it is even lower in data computing (17%); the situation looks better in the IT sector (around 30%),  but these figures are still not satisfactory. They still show that women employed in these sectors are underrepresented, not only compared to men, but also compared to the average for women in Europe. Our work to bridge the gender gap must go on. Eni is also convinced of this and supports the presence of women in the company, including at the helm of highly strategic technical areas, such as Research and Technology, Research and Technological Innovation and Magnetic Fusion, to name but a few. This is why it chose one of its female nuclear engineers to illustrate its project on magnetic confinement fusion, an important technological investment in the decarbonization process, at the latest edition of the Maker Faire innovation event in Rome. Also in this case, in order to ensure safe, sustainable and virtually inexhaustible energy, it is essential that we embrace Amalia's challenge and go beyond the stars.

The author: Alessandra Pierro

A degree in Philosophy, she is a freelance copyeditor and content curator.

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