Women are under-represented in most STEM fields, both in academia and industry, such under-representation increases the higher one moves in the hierarchical ladder. Digitalization and innovation provide an ever-growing array of employment opportunities for STEM employees, further increasing pay gap between these sectors and the rest, further increasing pay gap between women and men in societies, thus contributing to increasing disparities and slowing social and economic empowerment of women. To increase women representation in STEM supporting policies should be enacted at central level, accompanied by structural changes, in terms of gender-based discrimination, access to opportunities and spaces, as well as cultural changes, among women and men.

The Centre Science and Innovation for Development (SCiDEV) supported by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Albania, in the framework of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, organized an e-discussion on how to ensure a systematic increase of women representation in STEM. Representatives from the policy sector, academia, and industry, discussed steps and measures necessary to increase women representation in STEM. During the discussion was introduced the Network of Albanian Women in STEM (NAW-STEM). The establishment of such Network aims to contribute to the social and economic empowerment of women by increasing their representation in STEM, both in academia and industry.

The Network will achieve its goals by:

(a) increasing networking among women in STEM withing the country, the region and with the diaspora, 

(b) identifying and promoting women role models in STEM, 

(c) raising awareness on the importance of women participation in STEM fields, 

(d) contributing to policy development, 

(e) participating in relevant decision-making fora, 

(f) engaging in projects and research that address issues and opportunities related to women representation in STEM, and 

(g) establish and promote best practices on career transition from non-tech to tech fields.

During the discussion on Albanian Women in STEM – Evolving Policies, Structure and Culture was emphasized the need to address issues of policies, networking, promotion of best practices, as foreseen in the scope of work of the Network. HE Ambassador Guusje Korthals Altes, Embassy of the Netherlands in Albania, emphasized that visibility and policy change are crucial to increasing representation of women in science. She mentioned that many women who have made important contributions to science are invisible, thus by increasing their visibility is an important part of what is needed to be done, and also to counter stereotyping.

Ms Ornela Ademi, a scientific officer at the European Medicines Agency, brough into the discussion western European and Nordic countries’ best practices emphasizing application of parental leave equally, lowering gender pay gap, or promotion of women in key position, as is the case of the new director of the European Medicines Agency, or the President of the European Commission.

Ms Odeta Barbullushi, Advisor to the Albanian Prime Minister on EU integration and Regional Cooperation, said that Eastern Europe and the WB6 have increasing number of women in STEM, but there is a lack of structures that supports advancement, i.e. only two Universities in Albania have adopted the EU Charter and Code for the recruitment of women and gender equality in universities.  She further mentioned the need to enhance ICT skills of teachers, mid-career women, to be more competitive in the labor market and advance their careers.

Mr Eno Ngjela, Programme Specialist with the United Nations Development Programme in Albania, stated that more women are entering the labor market, but when it comes to STEM there is a mismatch between demand and supply. He emphasized that trends show that women are employed as technicians or support sercie providers, compared to men who sit at specialist positions. Mr Ngjela concluded that there is a need to introduce upskilling programs for employed young women or specific and advanced training programs for the unemployed ones, and that there is a need to encourage and incentivize more work based leaning initiatives.

Ms Anila Paparisto, lecturer in Invertebrate Zoology and Teaching Didactics at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Tirana and higher education expert, emphasized that she considers very important her role as a teacher of teachers of science. She emphasized that it is very important for children to get to know the world through science, which is possible to happen in university classrooms, where the teachers of tomorrow are formed.

Ms Ornela Bardhi, a Marie Curie Ph.D. fellow and an applied artificial intelligence in medicine researcher focusing on cancer, stated that there is an issue regarding women representation in STEM, while there are many talented women studying and working in the field, there is problem with bias and discrimination in hiring processes, and this should be addressed. Ms Bardhi also mentioned that the retention of STEM women in the workforce is another challenge, which needs to be addressed. Organizations need to tackle systemic problems to address issues that impact women in the workplace, and future career advancement.

If you want to contribute to the finalization of the charter of the Network of Albanian Women in STEM, please send an email at: info@scidevcenter.org, with the subject: NAW-STEM Charter.  

Watch the full video here.