by Letizia Jaccheri, NTNU, interviewed by Monica Divitini, as part of the ERCIM HR initiative to create awareness for diversity in the broadest sense.
Diversity in research institutes is of paramount importance. ERCIM News’ Monica Divitini interviewed Letizia Jaccheri, Professor at NTNU. Jaccheri: “Gender equality is not only a social right but also a driver of economic development”.
Letizia Jaccheri, NTNU.
What role do you play in your organization?
I have been a professor of software engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway since 2002. In these years I have also been department head for four years (from 2013 to 2017) and adjunct professor at the Arctic University of Norway (from 2019 to 2022).
My interest in gender equality began through my supervisor at NTNU, Professor Reidar Conradi who was interested in understanding the gender gap since the 1980s. Later, when I was a young associate professor, a professorship position opened, specifically designated for a woman. When I obtained that position, I felt the need to give something back and demonstrate that I was a valuable investment.
Why do you think it is important to promote inclusion and diversity in research institutes and universities?
To promote diversity, it is important to involve the organization in understanding what diversity means and how it will benefit the organization. When I have the opportunity to speak about inclusion and diversity (with a particular focus on gender diversity), I say that gender equality is not only a social right (we want to provide women and men with the same opportunities), but also something we do for the economic development.
I love to refer to the ted talk “We should all be feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [L1] and take inspiration to make people reflect that being a feminist means to believe that women and men should have the same rights. I try to borrow Chimamanda’s humorous and feminine tone to get the attention and sympathy of the audience. I have learned that if I give a message that people who have barriers against feminism for historical or political reasons will perceive as against them, I will achieve the opposite effect.
To motivate the audience that working with gender equality means working with economic development, I mention the statistics from the European Commission that say that by 2050, improving gender equality would lead to an increase in EU GDP of between two and three trillion euros [L2].
Can you briefly explain some initiatives that your organization has started to promote diversity and inclusion? Any initiative that you are particularly proud of?
NTNU has been working on initiatives to improve gender balance in tech since the late 1990s. The Ada Girl project started in 1997 [L3 ] and aims to recruit more girls to STEM studies and prevent dropouts. The female share of entrants in CS studies has gone from 4% in 2004 to 36% in 2019. Ada implements various measures, such as inviting girls from high school from all over the country, personal meetings with role models, technology days, mountain hiking tours, coding events, and PhD Parties. These measures can be summarized into four categories: informing, mentoring, anti-bias training, and quotas.
I started the project IDUN in 2019 with the aim of increasing the number of female scientists in top scientific positions. The project is named after Idun Reiten, one of Norway’s most eminent mathematicians and the faculty’s first female professor. Preparations took years, but the IDUN project could finally embark on its goals in 2019.
With a budget of 1 million euros, the project has recruited nine female adjunct professors who act as mentors and role models for 35 early-career researchers at the faculty's seven departments. The IDUN Scientific Mentoring Program focuses on networking, group work on a specific research topic, proposal writing, and career planning activities [L4]. It is almost unbelievable that in Norway, the country of gender equality, the percentage of female professors in STEM was 13% in 2018. It is almost 17% now, which is still low but at least shows that our project has had an effect.
EUGAIN is a European network of 200 people from 40 different countries, funded by COST [L5]. Through EUGAIN, we address five main challenges:
- The transition from school to higher education: How to encourage girls to choose to study ICT.
- The transition from master's studies to becoming a doctoral student.
- The leap from PhD to professor, which is the level that IDUN operates on.
- Cooperating with industry and society.
- Communicating results from the project to both society and other researchers.
Working on a European level helps us to put Norwegian efforts in perspective. It is not the case that Norway is far behind; in fact, quite the opposite. All of Europe is facing the same challenges.
In 2023, we are organizing the ACM womENcourage conference in Trondheim [L6]. I am the general chair, and I am very proud that there are almost 100 people involved in organizing the conference, including chairs, steering committees, and the various committees led by each chair, such as the poster and fellowship committees. I am also proud that we are able to give more than 60 scholarships to students, both female and male, to join us to network and discuss challenges and solutions related to diversity.
Did you make mistakes in your twenty years as a female professor and activist for gender equality?
I am happy and proud to have devoted time and energy to understanding and promoting inclusion and diversity. In 2022, I won two gender equality prizes for my work in the IDUN project [L7]. I think I was given the prize too early, as the percentage of female professors in STEM is still low. My mistake, which is also a common mistake, is to think that we have solved the problems of gender diversity in STEM, while we have not yet reached our goals.
Letizia Jaccheri, NTNU