How to increase female empowerment with research and business

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How to increase female empowerment with research and business

THE IMPORTANCE OF CORPORATE R&D FOR AN INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT

“The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political, and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic. Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex”. That’s the introductory message of a report, published almost one year ago, by the United Nations that was already capturing and predicting how COVID-19 would have major impacts, especially on the most vulnerable individuals in our societies. To fight against the difficulties generated by the pandemic, the report was suggesting “to use this moment to rebuild more equal, inclusive and resilient societies” by engaging more women in the COVID-19 response and defining socio-economic plans with an intentional focus on the lives and futures of women.

Taking inspiration from this context, this year the International Women’s Day (IWD), which we celebrate every 8th March, will concentrate attention on our world challenged by COVID-19. And because from challenges comes change, we all may choose to modify the way we do things so that from our everyday improvement we can together become architects of a new world.

POLICYMAKERS TO TAKE ACTION

Nowadays, we have all the statistical evidence confirming how difficult the last year has been for women, in every role and industry across the world. In many cases, with the spread of the pandemic, even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back. For instance, when considering academia it has been highlighted that mothers working in research lost the most dedicated work time during the lockdown periods, decreasing the numbers of their publications and endangering the possibilities of getting more funding for their research. A similar trend has been recorded in every other working context, where women’s employment is dropping faster than average.

This scenario pushes on policymakers to identify appropriate strategies that, by focusing on the characteristics of every specific situation, are capable of counteracting the negative effects of the pandemic. As an example, several editors, funders, and academic leaders have put in place different mechanisms to mitigate the threats posed by COVID-19 on women in academia. Defining special funding for caregiving researchers, making virtual conferences free, extending deadlines for funding request proposals, and incorporating application forms that include a space for people to specifically mention the impacts of COVID-19 on their progress so far are just example initiatives that aim at reducing gender biases.

CHALLENGE RHYMES WITH RESEARCH AND BUSINESS

As we wait to see a response to the pandemic with ad hoc policies against gender inequalities implemented across the world, at Konica Minolta Global R&D we decided to support the campaign launched by the International Women’s Day organisation. Following the celebration of women and girls in science held on 21st February, we believe that demonstrating the importance of engaging females in scientific, technical, engineering and mathematics matters (STEM) is our way to contribute to acknowledging the talented women in our business.

For us, the #choosetochallenge hashtag suggested by IWD organisation, means to raise our hand and focus on the importance of doing research within an inclusive environment. A research laboratory in which teams are coordinated with open and agile methodologies can be the key to engage and motivate employees, regardless of their gender.

We believe that the perceptions of women working in Konica Minolta Global R&D can be relevant for any person facing similar challenges and opportunities in their daily work. So, within the next paragraphs, take the time to hear from some of our colleagues who are involved in management, administrative or research and technological issues, and see how they are navigating the ever changing R&D landscape.

#CHOOSETOCHALLENGE WITH KONICA MINOLTA GLOBAL R&D WOMEN
  • Rosaria Esposito Vulgo GiganteRosaria Esposito Vulgo Gigante works as Scrum Master in our Rome laboratory: “The focus of my activity in Konica Minolta Global R&D is on Cognitive Services from an agile management perspective. The area is very promising: there are plenty of ideas, evaluations and research activities. I am supporting the team with Agile techniques, for example establishing and keeping a sustainable flow: different stakeholders, including sponsors, researchers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace, that is the essence of Agile principle #8. This contributes to keeping a motivating environment, where employees can express their full potential”.
    What’s been the most critical challenge Rosaria Esposito faced so far? “Research and software development are generally considered as a rational exercise. However, even if the tools to manage them are rational, working in this sector requires you to develop the greatest forms of creativity. The ability to think out-of-the-box, to find surprising solutions to common problems and needs. It takes courage to dare, to choose paths that may be wrong for many. It requires perseverance to not give up in case of failed attempts, critical thinking to learn from mistakes. It requires excellent communication skills in talking, listening to people, and capturing needs – sometimes unexpressed. That’s what makes our work challenging but also so fascinating”.
  • Zuzana Neverilova, a Research Specialist in Semantic Technologies and AI in the Brno laboratory, reflects on the barriers that are preventing girls from taking an active role in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs): “I think it’s a bottom-up problem. I know mothers who tell their daughters that math is not for them, and this is still a huge bias in the Czech Republic. Even if we launched several initiatives targeting girls and young women and inviting them to participate more in ICT, such as Czechitas (which had Konica Minolta’s support) or PyLadies, we’re intervening too late in their development when some bias has already entered girls’ mind. I believe that it could be more effective to persuade mothers that their daughter can be engineers and scientists”. The research area of Zuzana Neverilova is Natural Language Processing (NLP), “a discipline standing in the middle of the two worlds of humanities and computer science. Therefore, in my experience, I have always met many female colleagues working on this topic, even if generally men are more involved on the computing side and women more on the linguistic subjects”.
  • Elisabetta DelponteElisabetta Delponte is the Communications Manager in Konica Minolta Global R&D and within her role, she supports researchers to present their results and solutions both to an internal and external audience: “Working for communication of science is a sort of fascinating translation exercise. On the one hand, you need to understand the technical details and earn the trust of the researcher. On the other hand, data doesn’t speak for itself, and you need to balance the tech details with a story that creates curiosity in the reader. That’s where I believe my previous experience as a female computer scientist helps me: showing a developer you can speak tech make them feel more comfortable and then you capture their human side to create a more engaging narration”.
    What’s one challenge for communication of science? “Once, a friend working in academia told me that she feels that her male research fellows treat her as transparent. She said that often women are not recognised as researchers or professors per se. They are always something else as mothers, daughters, lovers… and only then, they do research. It is like if a woman’s purpose does not belong to research. I believe that’s one of the objectives of communication: with the appropriate words we can build a sense of belonging for everyone in teams creating inclusive environments where everyone dares to try”.
  • Barbara Pretagostini“Working in Konica Minolta Global R&D has been one of the best opportunities I had in the last years”, says Barbara Pretagostini who is the Office Manager in Rome Laboratory. “Since I joined the company a few years ago, I felt I was part of a team in which trust and respect are at the basis of every relationship. Indeed these are reflected in Konica Minolta’s values and it makes me proud to be able to support my colleagues within an environment where I finally feel empowered for my skills and talents as a woman”.
  • Eugenia BurecaEugenia Bureca, who is the General Services Officer in Rome Laboratory, feels to be “part of a strong team in which women’s contribution is an important value”, she says. “Even if we are still the minority of the workers in terms of numbers, our research team can count on several precious and so ambitious women and we all work with the aim of collaboration and mutual help”.
  • Veronica Di GiorgioVeronica Di Giorgio is Technology Lead in Konica Minolta Digital Workplace (DWP) R&D, whose main objective is to identify new ways, tools and practices for the workplace of the future. “We have all seen the evolution of workplaces in the last few years, and my job is about researching new ideas and solutions to interact with end-users by allowing them to deal with their daily work. I love to make the cold words software development bloom under a newer perspective in which users get involved in how software behaves before having them complying with what it actually does”.
    What are the benefits of having users involved from the beginning of development? “In the ever-changing world of work, for employees and companies, it is extremely important to define collaboration patterns to smooth the difficulties created by remote or delocalized work. Reassigning mundane and time-consuming tasks to automated systems is a way to allow people to grow and generate new ideas. In my day-to-day activities, I find it difficult to be creative about ways to engage people in decisional processes that need to be translated into technical topics, regardless of their role. Putting together colleagues working in sales and business, with technical and managers is the key to make successful research, but that’s also related with the challenge of breaking silos and establishing communication channels and collaboration streams among different teams and departments”.
  • Juliane SchneiderIn the same DWP R&D team in the Langenhagen office, Juliane Schneider works for the development of the workplace of the future as a Team Assistant. “In the last year, the main struggle for me has been the coordination within my team from remote,” explains Juliane Schneider. “I guess everyone is missing the social component of the office. That was making my job much easier and immediate, as I need to know what my colleagues are working on or what the challenges are so that I could jump in to support them. That close contact is what I miss most. And within this socially distanced context, I believe that it is even harder to keep the appropriate level of self-confidence. Thanks to Konica Minolta’s internal initiative for creating a Business Women Network, I know this is typical for many women. However, since I started working in the R&D team I felt I was valued as an essential part of the group: no matter the country nor the colleague I feel great appreciation for my support”.
  • Daniela CecchinelliGoing back to the topic of agile development, we meet now Daniela Cecchinelli, who is Release Manager & Scrum Master in the DWP R&D team in Rome. “Even if it was created and signed only by 17 men gathered in a ski lodge in Utah,” says Daniela Cecchinelli, “The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, that this year turned 20, is a revolutionary and inclusive document. Self-organisation, collaboration, experimentation, welcoming change, and building high-trust and supportive relationships are amongst the principles of Agile. Since it is based on the concepts of inclusiveness and embracing diversity, I believe that the manifesto is the result of contamination of different and open cultures including the values of feminist movements. And I can see this happening in our day-to-day practice: we need to define the product vision and balance internal stakeholder, client, and market needs to maximize the return of investment of R&D”.
RETHINK EMPOWERMENT EVERY DAY

For IWD this year, Konica Minolta has organised a global discussion panel during which four female leaders will be discussing the importance of gender equality after an introduction of our President and CEO Shoei Yamana about the importance of diversity and inclusion in our company. Beyond this insightful event, we believe that every day of the year we should strive to create environments where the focus is on personal skills and talents regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion or age. And, joining the Konica Minolta Business Women Network, we believe research and technologies represent an inclusive path for engaging and empowering new generations of young researchers. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our research activities or join as partner for co-innovation.