«I have become used to working in male-dominated environments»

This year prisma once more had the chance to participate in the TEDxHSG event. The inspiration passed was phenomenal and we even got to conduct an interview with Michela Puddu, founder of Haelixa, who recently was rewarded the European Innovators price for Women.

Michela Puddu presenting her mission at TEDxHSG.

Michela Puddu, how did you get into science?

After completing school, I was admitted to an orientation program organized by la Scuola Normale Superiore for choosing an undergraduate university course in which they were showing all the opportunities in science. I was fascinated by all of that and had a desire for intellectual challenge, so I wanted to get in.

Why do you think there are so few women in science?

I don’t think that women have different inclinations and abilities than men. I think that it’s all about stereotypes and what you are taught since a young age. Education plays a central role in establishing or combating gender stereotypes. Schools and families can promote gender equality in science by raising awareness, confronting misinformation, encouraging girls to study science at university. By presenting inspiring examples of women in science, we can show what can be done there and that science can be accessible for everyone.

You founded Haelixa and you are also a really passionate runner. How do you handle it all?

It is not always easy to find the right work-life-balance, but you have to work on it if you want to be effective and efficient in what you do. Ultimately, if you burn out you are not going to deliver and you are not going to change the things you want to change. Running fuels me. It’s very easy to find time for that because I feel better afterwards. I run to get the courage, get rid of my nerves, and give the right meaning to each step I take..

What does the world need Haelixa?

With increasing supply chain complexity, it becomes more and more difficult to prove the origin, the sustainability and the integrity of products. There is the need for more visibility and more transparency. Technology like ours enable all the actors in the supply chain to integrate that transparency into their daily operations.

Haelixa’s goals is to make the world a more ethical and sustainable place. How can we make this happen aside from Haelixa?

A big responsibility lies on the private sector. Pioneering brands can influence consumers and have the power to actually educate the crowd on the production process and the issues associated with it. Together with them, non-profit organizations and movements have the power of guiding customers on this journey of behaviour change. On the other hand we as consumers have a responsibility. We can educate ourselves and others. We can contribute to a shift towards more sustainable choices, not just in fashion, but also for any goods we buy and for the food we eat.

The start-up scene is still really male-dominated. How do you handle it as a woman?

I have become used to working and studying in very male-dominated environments. In a woman entrepreneurial journey, there might be situations where you are not taken seriously. Women a have networking disadvantage: VCs firms and networks are male dominated. Additionally the default profile of the successful entrepreneur is male. I could imagine having female advisors and confidants could provide guidance on how to better manage these situations and instill self-confidence in your abilities as a woman entrepreneur, but I never had a female mentor as I could not find one! I have learned myself how to handle situations that might be upsetting or frustrating by not taking it personally and by not letting the circumstances influence my thinking and actions and stop me from achieving my goals.

How often do you get confronted with stereotypes?

Quite often. On different levels. Society remains strongly gender stereotyped and the education system most often reproduces these stereotypes instead of challenging them.

What might these actions be?

First of all, it is necessary to understand that gender-inequality is still a problem, because some people don’t see it as an issue anymore. Very often even the people who don’t deny the existence of the problem struggle to reconcile the link between their own individual actions and these gender issues. Gender equality begins at home and in schools. It is necessary to raise awareness through education of the persistence of gender stereotypical opportunities, explore the factors that contribute to its persistence, share examples of good practice.

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