On the occasion of International Women's Day, we have interviewed Francesca Pasinelli, member of Fondazione Dompé's scientific committee and General Director of Fondazione Telethon, a not-for-profit organization that funds research projects addressed to the treatment of rare genetic diseases. A heart-to-heart interview, where Francesca has shared with us her thoughts on gender gap and the touching story of the woman that has inspired her the most.

Since 2009, you are General Director of Fondazione Telethon. What brought you here?

Passion has certainly brought me here. I come from the pharmaceutical world: I have a degree in Pharmacy and a Master’s Degree in Pharmacology. I have always had a thing for drug development: and, at a certain point of my life, the idea of dedicating myself to patients affected by rare diseases, which are often ignored by public and private investments, intrigued me. I thought it would have been great to use everything that I had learnt in the pharmaceutical industry to help these people.

According to a study led by ONU, women represent only 28% of the workforce in the STEM fields. Why?

I believe it depends on a lot of things. First of all, women all over the world have struggled to earn leading positions, and this is true also for the STEM world. In our country, especially, this field has always been male-dominated, at least according to the general perception. I must admit that the gender gap doesn’t really exist in the biological or pharmaceutical world: these fields have always been popular also among women.

Which strategies could reduce gender gap?

First of all, we should rethink the way science is taught in primary and secondary school: teachers should be able to raise interest in this subject among all students equally. And this sometimes does not happen as men are believed to have a greater natural inclination for everything that has to do with technology. Secondly, improve our welfare system. STEM careers are extremely demanding, also from a physical perspective: policies should therefore enable women to combine their desire to build a family and the ambition to pursue a satisfying career also in challenging fields.

Is there a woman that has particularly inspired you?

My childhood neighbor, who had two children affected by a rare genetic disease. Back in those years, that disease was particularly dramatic as there were no treatments, not even palliative care. By observing the extraordinary commitment, tenacity and unconditional love of this woman for her children, I have learnt that what counts the most is the human being behind the disease, rather than the disease itself. I have learnt that a child always brings you joy and is always a source of inspiration, even if affected by a very serious disease.

Which advice would you give to a young girl interested in a STEM degree?

The advice I would give to any student: choose a path that really attracts you, follow your heart. There are a lot of obstacles out there, in certain fields more than others, but the greatest difficulty you can face is to find yourself doing something you don’t love, something that doesn’t excite you.