Girls in ICT in Europe, something to celebrate every day!

This is a guest blog post written by Cheryl Miller, Founder and Executive Director of the Digital Leadership Institute

In celebration of Girls in ICT Day 2017, on 29 April in Brussels the Digital Leadership Institute will organise a Girl Tech Fest for 250 girls, ages ten to fifteen, featuring hands-on activities aimed to increase their interest in “ESTEAM” fields—Entrepreneurship, STEM and Arts.  This is the fifth event in the past seven years organised together with  our partners—including Amazon Web Services, IBM, Google, Cisco, GE, and Dell EMC. Our goal is to promote women role models in tech and encourage girls toward studies and careers in digital sectors, especially startups. However, despite massive grassroots effort like ours and others, it is hard to gauge whether this work is making a lasting impact.

Over the past ten years, demand for IT experts in Europe has grown eight times the job market, while participation by women in these areas has flat-lined, and even decreased in relative terms.  In the same period, the Digital Scoreboard for Europe showed a persistent lag in digital skill levels of Europe's women, representing about twelve million more digitally unskilled women than men and a staggering total of 150 million European women with no or low digital skills.  In eighteen European countries, men enjoy greater online access than women, they are far more likely to formally study Computer Science across the board, and they hold eighty percent of technical and leadership roles in Europe’s ICT organisations.  In Europe, tech entrepreneurs are four times more likely to be men than women, and in some places the ratio of male to female tech starters is closer to 100:1.  Finally, men make up ninety-six percent of corporate CEOs and hold eighty-five percent of board roles in Europe's private sector, including in tech.

In a word, a woman in Europe today is less likely to:

1) Enjoy online access;

2) Be digitally skilled, even in a rudimentary way;

3) Study Computer Science formally; or

4) Hold a technical or leadership role in a digital field of any kind.

A 2013 European Commission study demonstrated that equal participation of women in Europe's ICT sector would contribute as much as €9B to the European economy annually, and would provide a quick-win for addressing the exploding digital skills and job gap.  In addition, one million tech jobs in Europe going unfilled by 2020, double-digit urban youth unemployment, and the growing risk of socio-economic exclusion through digitisation, makes engagement of underserved demographics in our increasingly digital society--especially girls and women--a pressing social, political imperative as well.

Fortunately, traction to harness the opportunity captured here is growing at the European level. This trend is encouraged largely by the success of European Code Week to achieve gender parity in their activities that have reached nearly one million people since 2013. A revitalised Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition is now actively seeking pledges to increase female participation in digital studies and careers in Europe.  As long-time advocate and coalition pledger for this mission, I look forward to being joined by more organisations from across Europe in the coming weeks and months, and to celebrating Girls in ICT Day in Europe every day going forward.