In the technological age women in the digital field are still too few. With significant cost effects for the EU.
We live in times of very fast technological advances, where a smartphone can replace an entire office and seeing the impact of artificial intelligence on human labour is normal. Times in which the concepts of smart working and work-life balance have sprung up and in which, partly because of this, we are all a part of some group chat. We could be ushering in the elimination of gender distinction but, even though all the tools allow it, the lack of achievement in attaining gender equality at work is striking. And in the ICT sector, which is responsible for these innovations, the situation is perhaps worse: it is, after all, still a largely male domain. Of the 5.8% of Europeans who have a digital job, only 21.5% are women and, between the ages of 30 and 44, they are the people most inclined to leave (8.7% against 1.2% for men). This is a cost for Europe: the annual productivity loss of this abandonment costs 16.1 million euro.
On closer inspection, the relationship between women and technologies should offer great opportunities. Just think of the rapid ascent to fame of influencers who have exploited the potential of social media to become contemporary icons who are followed by millions of people. Or the savvy startuppers who have created successful businesses, from Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-A-Porter, to Martha Lane Fox, creator of Lastminute.com, precursors of a trend which show how – and it’s backed up by the numbers -, “female” innovative companies are today more likely to be financed and to prosper, albeit they are numerically under-represented compared to those founded by only men. Technology is literally within reach, from chats on WhatsApp to smart-watches to managing weekly sports trainings. Yet in the ICT labour market, the place where innovation is managed, maintained and enabled, the combination of women and digital breaks down very early on. This is despite the strength of social media which can rocket the work of scientists on centre stage, like 30-year
-old Katie Bouman, who holds a Ph.D., who in April led to the development of acquiring the first image of a black hole.
Out of 1000 female graduates only 24 choose studies in the digital field and 6 end up working in it (92 and 49 respectively for men). This impacts the type of innovations produced which are thought up almost exclusively by men and conditions the persistence of gender stereotypes, which is one of the first causes of abandonment by professionals.
The road is very long and often approached tentatively, but the steps we need to take are equally clear and shared. Companies experience problems with retaining specialised staff and, conscious of the positive impact of diversity on teams, are seeking more and more women. Since it is never too early to start making a difference, programs are multiplying targeted at girls to encourage them to undertake STEM study paths, like the Irish project I Wish. Gender-balance initiatives in these sectors are growing, like the English WISE Campaign, and Coder Dojo Girls Initiative proposals are spreading, which was founded within the international non-profit movement to bring children and teens closer to computer science to reach the 40% female participation goal in their programs by 2020.