The technology sector is still dominated by men, and Europe has made an effort to ensure that it can attract more women to this area. The #Digital4Her conference, organized by the European Commission, discussed  this topic on 19 June in Brussels, with a rich panel of speakers and inspirational stories. The goal of the event was to sheer some light on the matter of the barriers that still prevent women from having greater participation in this sector and how to overcome this problem.

The Commissioner of Economy and Digital Society, Mariya Gabriel, in her opening speech said that the number of young people studying in the areas of information systems is decreasing rather than growing and the difference is already four men for every one woman in this area of training. Also, in employment this discrepancy is noticed, with 3.1 times more men than women in the Digital Economy, which has an economic impact that the EC measures in loss of productivity that costs annually about 16.2 billion euros.

Mariya Gabriel set three priorities for driving an inclusive European economy:

1) combating gender stereotypes;

2) stimulating #DigitalEducation;

3) facilitating digital entrepreneurship of women.

"Data shows that less women in digital means slower economic growth. We need to allow everybody to gain the right skills and succeed in the tech sector”, she said in her keynote speech in the opening.

Plus, the Commissioner presented her strategy for Women in Digital. More on that here:

Talking about inspirational stories, two of them were the stories of Dr. Sue Black and Malavika Vivek. Dr. Sue Black is a Digital Skills Expert and Entrepreneur from the UK who had run a successful campaign over several years to secure funding for the restoration of Bletchley Park, the UK World War II centre for decrypting enemy messages. And her life story is inspirational to young women as well. She got married at the age of 20, at 24 she was the mother of three kids. Short after, the marriage felt apart, and she ended up in a women refuge. But she didn’t give up. She took a maths access course at night school that led to enrolling in undergraduate degree. Her motto is ‘If I can do it, so can you’. She was also one of the 30 women identified in the British Computer Society's Women in IT Campaign in 2014, who were then featured in the e-book "Women in IT: Inspiring the next generation" produced by the BCS.

Another inspiring woman is Malavika Vivek. While she was still in high school, she was one of the founders of 'Girls Make Apps', an organization offering computer science education for female middle school students in the United States. The courses she organized have impacted hundreds of girls and young women to aspire a career in tech. “We need to shake these meaningless gender roles and change the expectations of girls from being perfect and conform to social standards and instead change it to room for failure and mistakes”, she said in her speech.

At the panel titled ‘The future is now’, Carlota Tarín, Women in ICT study and Consultancy Area Manager in ICLaves, showed the audience the causes of the lack of women on digital:

1) biases and stereotypes: about what’s appropriate for each gender; about capabilities (technical, leadership or entrepreneurial); about digital itself.

2) a “certain” culture: unbalanced share of caring responsibilities; lack of visibility and role models; tokenisms and in-group thinking.

3) structural problems: discrimination and unbalanced business practices; lack of pool talent.

4) personal “implications”: weak professional networks; ambition gap; confidence gap; risk aversion.

Also, during the conference, a new abbreviation was introduced: ESTEAM, that means Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math presented by Cheryl Miller, from the Digital Leadership Institute.

The last panel discussed the theme on ‘How can we increase women and girls interest in STEM and Digital?’. The answers were: promote visibility of female role models in digital at school and the workplace, in particular through the media to establish it as a standard rather than exception; develop new forms of mentoring, coaching, sponsoring and management to encourage women to pursue and access management positions in digital companies; and launch projects and competitions at European level for young women in digital, with the support of industry and of the Ministries of Education.

At the end of the conference, 10 European start ups led by 10 women were awarded.

Facts that were presented during the event:

  • Girls who have engaged in IT studies are not more employable as a result, while men are; says a new 'Women in ICT' study by ICLaves.
  • The number of female IT experts in Europe is actually lower today than it was back in 2015.
  • The % of European citizens (BOTH men and women) with ICT-related education has decreased in the past 10 years.
  • 22% of IT experts in Europe in 2005 were women. Now they score at 17%.
  • In the US 98% of female engineers have a father who is an engineer - Inspiring dads are important role-models for young women.
  • Science & engineering are among Europe's most disproportionate fields. Only less than 1 in 5 technicians working in this area is a woman. Details in EU Eurostat's report:
  • In Belgium just 25% of graduates in STEM are women.
  • Code Week EU last year managed to engage 50% of girls and 50% of boys in coding activities.
  • The Declaration for Europe’s corporate tech leaders to achieve gender balance in their companies was signed at the event (on 19 June).
  • 8.2 million people worked as ICT specialists in Europe. Only 16.1% are women.
  • After the worldwide phenomenon of CSI, the number of women pursuing careers in forensics increased.
  • The study on Women in the Digital Age showed that startups with women in management deliver better results. Here’s the study: 

Quotes from the speakers of the conference:

“It’s not about pushing men down the hill, where they have been sat for centuries, but to walk up and sit there to join them.” – Laura Houlgatte, CEO International Union of Cinemas (UNIC).

“The fight against stereotypes can only be won if we promote a very different and balanced picture of the roles of the sexes in the media.” – Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner of Economy and Digital Society.

"We should not mention just Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates as role models in tech & digital. By talking more about inspirational women we start the systematic change.” - Malavika Vivek.

"Stop teaching girls to be humble and quiet, let's teach them to be ambitious!" – Laura Abbott, CEO International Union of Cinemas (UNIC).

“It’s up to all of us to talk to each other about each other’s unconscious bias, as we all have them.” – Bindi Karia, Startup expert and advisor.

“Fight bias, support parental leave and create grassroots groups. Find role models, find mentors. Nudge women to apply to leadership positions to which they ordinarily might not.” – Lie Junius, director EU Public Policy and Government Relations at Google.

“We have to show young girls the example of women that tried and succeed. The message we have to pass is this: Try, try and try!” – Evelyne Gebhardt, vice-president of the European Parliament.

“The best thing we could do is not to block girls by telling them what they cannot do!” - Manuela Catrina, Romanian State Secretary.

“Go out there, be role models, you can all be role models” - Ewelina Grabowska, Mentor for IT for SHE, Ericsson.

"Stop teaching technology, to increase the interest in young people, make the boys and girls aware of how technology works and what it does.” - Eva Fog, Founder of DigiPippi.

'No girl should regret being born a girl when it comes to studies or careers in tech' – Dalibor Todorovic, ICT teacher, Serbia.

“We have to move from fighting stereotypes to promoting gender equality and involve men. It shouldn’t only be Digital4Her but Digital4Us.” - Karin Ibourki, Chair of Superior Council of the Audiovisual (CSA – Belgium).

"We have the social responsibility and an economic interest to encourage more women in tech and to empower them." – Mounir Mahjoubi, French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs.

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Comment by Iva Walterova on July 8, 2018 at 13:32

You can now also read the official conclusions & recommendations from the Digital4Her event HERE.

Notable are in particular conclusions on Education and Skills in Digital: 

  • Promote visiblity of female role models in digital at school and the workplace, in particular through the media to establish it as a standard rather than the exception;
  • Develop new forms of mentoring, coaching, sponsoring and management to encourage women to pursue and access management positions in digital companies;
  •  Launch projects and competitions at European level for young women in digital, with the support of industry and of the Ministries of Education.  

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