The road less travelled: women in ICT/tech
In recognition of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we discuss the fact that women are getting left behind in ICT/tech, and what it might take to begin to get more girls and women involved.
Tomorrow, Saturday, 8 March, will be observed as International Women’s Day, to celebrate women and recognise their achievements. In reflecting back over the past 150—200 years, the role of women in our societies has changed considerably, where many of the rights and freedoms that are enjoyed today would have been unheard of a mere century ago.
Having said this, and regardless of whether we are prepared to admit it, gender inequality still exists. One of the areas in which it is most apparent is in the ICT/tech field, where fewer girls are pursuing advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes and consequently, fewer women work in those fields.
There are a few prominent and powerful women in senior positions in global tech companies, such as:
- Ursula Burns, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Xerox
- Marissa Mayer, President and Chief Executive Officer, Yahoo
- Sheryl Sandberg at Chief Operating Officer, Facebook, and
- Padmasree Warrior, Chief Technical and Strategy Officer, Cisco.
However, although these women, and others, have succeeded in reaching leadership and executive positions in prominent tech firms, the truth is that it is still the exception rather than the norm.
In a study of 25 countries worldwide published in 2013 by professional services firm, Deloitte, women accounted for approximately 10% of board members or persons in senor management positions. Additionally, statistics published by the European Union (EU) in a press release yesterday, 6 March, about women in the digital economy, paint an even more sobering picture:
* Only 9 in 100 European app developers are female
* Only 19% of ICT managers are women (45% women in other service sectors)
* Only 19% of ICT entrepreneurs are women (54% women in other service sectors) Less than 30% of the ICT workforce is female
* Number of female computing graduate is dropping (3% of female graduates compared to 10% of male graduates).
Getting left behind in the digital economy
Interestingly, STEM–related industries are the some of the fastest growing sectors worldwide. Currently, there is considerable demand for suitably qualified professionals, which is expected to increase dramatically into the future. Employers are already experiencing difficulty sourcing the needed talent, and it has already been projected that there will be a shortage of tech professionals to satisfy the anticipated demand.
In that regard, the declining number of female graduates is particularly worrying. Not only does it indicate that fewer women are equipped to enter STEM-related fields, but also that fewer women will be suitably qualified to be appointed to highly technical positions. Hence the desired increase in the number and visibility of women in tech jobs is unlikely to be realised into the foreseeable future, and ultimately, it could be argued that women are being left behind in the digital economy.
The thrust for more women in tech is not just about gender equality. According to the EU press release mentioned earlier, there are considerable economic gains to be realised by greater participation by women:
… If women held digital jobs as frequently as men, the European GDP could be boosted annually by around € 9 billion (1.3 times Malta’s GDP)…. Organisations which are more inclusive of women in management achieve a 35% higher Return on Equity and 34% better total return to shareholders than other comparable organisations…
Walking the road less travelled
In summary, the concepts of women in positions of power and women in tech have been subject to considerable debate – from both sides – over the past few years. Discussions have ranged from the marked gender bias that exists, to the fact that with relatively few women in the tech industry, there will be even fewer women in positions of leadership.
So far, studies have shown that the most viable way to reverse that trend and increase female participation in the ICT/tech sector is to start young: to help girls appreciate the possibilities of such careers and to highlight the success of other women. However, it is also crucial that women and girls are supported by society, especially their teachers and parents, since tech careers are still not lauded as those of traditional professions, such as medicine and law. Hence even seemingly innocent activities, such as “career day” in kindergarten and primary/grade school, begin to sow the seeds of what might be acceptable professions well after the costumes have been put away.