When you are the only woman out of the 200 students attending a university course, mistrust and prejudice are greater concerns than your actual studies. The general consensus is that women are more suited to languages and literature than mathematics and programming. Someone who knows all about these prejudices is Francesca Corsini. Born in Rome 38 years ago, for seven years she has been working as a developer of apps for iOS, the Apple operating system.
At the start, she certainly didn’t have it easy: “When I enrolled in La Sapienza University, in 2000, I was told that they had just finished building the women’s bathrooms.” Since then, from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering to the Amsterdam offices of ING where she now works, Francesca has mostly had to do with male – and sometimes chauvinist – environments: “It is true, I have had to put up with many unpleasant situations, but I never once thought that I had made the wrong decision. Actually, those situations and the usual jokes about women simply made me more determined.”
I never once thought that I had made the wrong decision. Actually, the usual jokes about women simply made me more determined.
However, it wasn’t until after university that Francesca become a programmer: “The degree course in Engineering – which I finished a little late, after transferring to Roma Tre – would not in itself have been enough. I basically taught myself through books, online courses and conferences.” Over the years, she has worked on several projects for RAI, in the team that has developed most of the broadcasting company’s apps and programs. She then moved to Amsterdam, Holland. “Things are much more relaxed here: I work 36 hours a week, and I have an extra day to myself compared to when I was in Italy,” she says, referring to a more serene, but no less masculine environment: “I am virtually the only woman in a team of twenty people, but here they don’t dare to make unpleasant jokes. We manage the Ing home banking app, and coordinate work on the company’s applications across Europe.” With such excellent working conditions, Francesca could even avoid the eternal dilemma of balancing her career with starting a family: “But, for now, that’s not an area of concern for me,” she says. “I live with my partner, and we have no intention of having children yet.”
While programming skills are in very high demand in the labour market, it is also true that people like Francesca are something of a rare breed in an industry that sees women remain on the sidelines right from higher education. Why? It’s a question of culture: “My own family couldn’t understand why I wanted to study engineering. It is a matter of stereotypes.” A convention that sees fathers supporting the family and women at home or at the very most with a part-time job: “It is high time we made away with this cultural legacy. But I think that things are slowly starting to change.” Small steps. Like the women’s bathrooms at La Sapienza University in 2000, where it all began.