On the occasion of the International Women's Day today, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel in charge of Digital Economy and Society outlined her strategy to implement actions that will facilitate an increase in the participation of women in the digital sector. The actions will focus on three main areas: challenging stereotypes; promoting digital skills and education and advocating for more women entrepreneurs.

Women's portrait with blurred icons of apps around her face

Commissioner Gabriel outlined her strategy on Women in Digital at the European Parliament where she announced the different actions planned to be implemented until 2019.

The urgent need for action is backed by the new study on the participation of the women in the digital sector, published today.

Given the conclusions of the study “Women in the Digital Age”, published today, it is clear that concrete actions need to be taken and they need to involve our entire society, from CEO’s to policy makers, from teachers to parents and workers, women and men alike.

The numbers talk for themselves:

  • More women in digital jobs could create an annual €16 billion GDP boost in the EU.
  • They would improve the start-up environment, as research shows that female owned start-ups are more likely to be successful.
  • Businesses would benefit because diversity at inception leads to better products and services.
  • However, the study also finds that there are four times more men than women in Europe with ICT-related studies.
  • Even more worrying, the number of women in ICT related higher education is dropping compared to 2011.

We also see that young girls refrain from taking up an education in STEM fields because of reasons like lack of inspiration and role models. The role of women who are already in leadership and senior management is therefore very important in bringing confidence and inspiration to the younger generation. Other barriers to women engaging in the tech sector are the lack of mentoring and gender bias at the workplace, just with reference to some some of the conclusions of the study.

The Commissioner's plan will build on three focus areas will be to:

  • combat gender stereotypes and promote role models,
  • enable, encourage and motivate girls to learn digital skills and take up STEAM (Science , Technology, Engineering Arts and Math) subjects
  • enable and encourage more women to participate in digital entrepreneurship and innovation.

Challenging Stereotypes

First, when it comes to challenge existing stereotypes we start from the premise that girls would be keener on taking up ICT related education if they had successful role models form the sector. However, despite existing EU rules on the matter, the media often display an image of society that does not correspond to today's reality.  This is not surprising if most of those that make the media content are men.  This is why the Commissioner wants a to work with national audiovisual regulators (ERGA) to  assess the situation and gather best practices promoting gender equality in the audiovisual media. She also mentioned that she will use tools like the MEDIA programme to track gender balance among applicants and to promote diversity in the film industry. She will be highlighting this issue in the Cannes festival and the Lumière Film Festival. She will also promote role models in the ICT sector through recognition and awards.

Women are even less represented in cyber security – they comprise only 7% of the workforce in this sector in Europe. In a panel discussion in the Commission today Commissioner Gabriel will raise awareness about the active role women can play in cyber security.

In this context, the Commissioner has initiated the No Women no Panel Campaign which aims to bring awareness to having gender balanced in panels. She committed to participating in panels she is invited to only if there are at least 2 of the underrepresented gender.

Education and training in digital skills

Second, the study shows that 4 every 1000 women, only 24 graduate in ICT related fields. The actions foreseen to get more girls and women to actively be involved in STEM fields are to provide opportunities through education and training. Commissioner Gabriel said that she would support existing actions like the EU Code Week which saw an impressive 46% of women participants. She will scale up participation in the EU Code Week to reach 50% of all schools in Europe by 2020.

She will make good use of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, and will invite companies and organisations to equip more women and girls with digital skills and entice them to pursue ICT studies and careers. She presented a special prize to a project that promotes digital skills for women and girls at the Digital Skills Awards 2017. She will also work with the Digital Champions to in every Member State to seek out good practice in digital skills for women and girls. The Commission celebrates Girls in ICT Day on 26 April every year with various actions that motivate young girls to be interested in ICT.

 

Women Entrepreneurs

Finally, women are also quite underrepresented in the digital startups with only 23% in European tech startups and only 19% of women are founders of startups in  Europe.  The Commissioner wants to push for more women to be entrepreneurs in the digital sector starting from existing successful initiatives such as the WeHubs, the first European community that connects business ecosystems in support of women entrepreneurs in the digital sector. The EU Prize for Women Innovators recognizes outstanding women entrepreneurs and inspires others to follow in their footsteps. She will now focus on gender balance in the cybersecurity field and source initiatives that industry and research communities can implement through the Cybersecurity Public-Private Partnership.  She is also planning actions to raise awareness in the ICT Research community.

The gender gap in the digital sector is a cause for concern as Europe is projected to have a high shortage of digital skills by 2020. Encouraging women into this field and building a gender balanced tech sector will play an important role in order to boost innovation and bring economic benefits to the European Economy.

The European Commission has also published a Joint statement  by 14 Commissioners on their commitment to promoting gender equality and a Q&A on the present and upcoming EU Actions.

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