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Gender equality in ICT

Gender equality in European ICT: extensive report

Gender equality in European ICT jobs is worse today than it was ten years ago with only 2 out of 10 ICT jobs in the European Union held by women.

Despite the overall growth of the ICT sector in recent decades, the share of women in ICT jobs in the EU has decreased by 4 p.p. since 2010, standing at 18 % in 2019, according to the latest Gender Equality Index from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). The high level of gender segregation in ICT jobs surpasses the gender imbalance in many other STEM (science, technology, engineering) jobs. For example, women represent about 27 % of science and engineering professionals in the EU.

Segregation in education and work

The report stresses that one of the biggest problems holding back gender equality is segregation in education and work. This means a concentration of either women or men in certain subjects or jobs. Despite efforts to tackle this issue, such as special initiatives to encourage women to study science, engineering or ICT, segregation has actually increased since 2010. In the EU, only two out of ten ICT jobs are held by women.

Women are underrepresented in developing artificial intelligence, digital start-ups and high technology products such as space crafts, optical fibers, lasers and microchips. Overall, men dominate the development of new technologies across the EU.

The report stresses the need for more women to aim at a career in ITC saying ”with the ICT sector heavily gender segregated and facing a huge demand for new specialists, the greater involvement of women seems to be a policy strategy with obvious economic and social benefits.”

”There is still a long road ahead in many aspects, particularly in the digital world. As our present and future are increasingly digital, we need to ensure that women and girls occupy their fair share of this sector and are encouraged to contribute towards its growth”, said Carlien Scheele, EIGE’s director.


Pandemic is a threat to gender equality progress

“We have seen small, steady gains year on year but this time we have a reason for concern. The coronavirus pandemic poses a serious threat to gender equality progress, which we cannot afford. More than ever, policymakers will need to use the results of our Index to design inclusive solutions that promote gender equality in our society, both during and after the pandemic.”

The majority of EU Member States report difficulties in finding a sufficient number of science, engineering and ICT professionals. A recent estimate suggested that the EU faced a shortage of some 600 000 ICT specialists in 2018. ”

This mismatch between the supply of ICT specialists and employer demand is likely to remain for some time, as STEM specialists and in particular ICT specialists continue to be in high demand,” EIGE said.


E.U. 60 years away from gender balance

The European Union as such is at least 60 years away from reaching gender balance with the present development speed and the lack of balance is even more disturbing, The general score is 67.9 out of 100 and the improvement has not been more than a half percent the last years.

EIGE research shows that while digital skills and access to digital technologies is becoming less of an issue for young Europeans, boys consistently express higher self-confidence across a range of skills in relation to the use of digital technologies. Boys tend to overestimate their performance and abilities, while girls underestimate both.

”The lack of gender diversity in the workforce likely to invent, design, evaluate, develop, commercialise and disseminate digital services and goods remains striking. Two aspects are particularly relevant to the contribution of women and men to the development of digital technologies and the gender dynamics at play in that sector: the gender make-up of people with STEM skills and qualifications, particularly in ICT, and the gender composition of the research and development (R & D) sector”, EIGE said.

Gender attitudes to and confidence in digital skills and ICT are reflected in career aspirations, along with education choices. In 2018, only 1 % of girls, on average, reported that they expected to work in an ICT-related occupation, compared with 10 % of boys.


Very few female students choosing STEM studies

In 2018, only 17 % of female students had opted to enroll in STEM studies, compared with 42 % of male students. As a result, STEM studies are largely dominated by male students (68 % versus 32 % of female students). Stark levels of gender segregation among STEM students and graduates lay the ground for future gender segregation in labour markets and subsequent gender disparity in the development of digital products, for example.

Although some STEM fields, such as natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, are quite gender-balanced, ICT is characterised by a high degree of gender segregation, with 82 % of students being male.

This level of under-representation of women among ICT students is hardly surprising, given the small number of young girls aspiring to become ICT professionals, the report concludes. Women represent only 20 % of graduates in ICT-related fields, or 1.3 % of all women graduates from tertiary education, compared with 7 % of men graduates


Female entrepreneurship even lower

The data on entrepreneurship in the ICT sector shows only 7 % of self-employed ICT specialists with at least one staff member are women. Across all sectors, women entrepreneurs represent about 27 % of all self-employed people with at least one employee.

The gender gap in start-ups and venture capital investment is similarly striking. According to the EU Startup Monitor 2018, only 17 % of start-up founders are women. OECD analysis shows that women-owned start-ups receive on average 23 % less funding than men-led businesses (European Commission).

On a positive note, the OECD observes that venture capital firms with at least one woman partner are more than twice as likely to invest in a company with a woman on the management team, and three times as likely to invest in women CEOs.

”The evidence also shows that, despite the scarcity of women entrepreneurs, women-led digital startups are more likely to be successful than those owned by men, while investments in female-founded start-ups perform 63 % better than investments with all-male founding teams.”


Women ICT professionals struggling to get a job, despite the high demand

Even though ICT skills are in high demand in the labour market, women ICT professionals do not fare as well as their male counterparts, EIGE concludes. For women, the probability of being employed in the ICT sector following ICT-related studies is between 1 p.p. and 2 p.p. smaller than the probability of employment in a relevant field of women following other programmes of study.

EIGE’s research shows that only one third of recent STEM graduate women work in STEM occupations, compared with one in two recent STEM graduate men

In 2019, across the EU, there were close to 32 million scientists and engineers employed in high-technology sectors, of whom only one fifth were women. That proportion has been unchanged since 2010!


Only 22% of AI professionals are women

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with LinkedIn, found that out of 40% of all professionals employed in software and IT services and who possess some level of AI skills, women make up only 7.4 %. Globally, only 22 % of AI professionals are women, a trend that has remained fairly constant in recent years (World Economic Forum, 2018).

The data shows that for the period 2013–2017, one of the lowest ratios of women to men (0.4) as contributing authors of articles in specialized magazines etc was observed in the field of engineering and technology in the EU. On average, at the beginning of their careers, women tend to publish almost as frequently as men in their field, but, as seniority increases, male authors widen the gap and publish more often than their female colleagues. While this trend holds true for all & D fields, it is accentuated in engineering and technology (European Commission, 2019h).

From 2008 to 2018, the growth in employment of ICT specialists was more than 12 times the average employment growth in the EU, with the share of ICT specialists in total employment increasing by 1.1 p.p. (from 2.8 % to 3.9 %). The ICT sector was one of the few that withstood the effects of the financial crisis and continued to experience growth.

However, of the 9 million ICT specialists, only around 18 % are women, and the share of women in ICT jobs in the EU has decreased by 4 % since 2010.


Strong segregation but huge demand for new specialists

With the ICT sector heavily gender segregated and facing a huge demand for new specialists, the greater involvement of women seems to be a policy strategy with obvious economic and social benefits, the report stresses.

The standard employment relationship is highly prevalent in ICT: 93 % of women and 88 % of men ICT specialists are employees; ICT workers are more likely to work a standard 40-hour week than the rest of the working population; and few have temporary work contracts (8 % of women and men). Only 7 % of women and 12 % of men in ICT are self-employed, which are lower proportions than for other occupations (10 % of women and 18 % of men).

Only one quarter of ICT sector employees have their working time arrangements strictly set by the company with no possibility for change (compared with almost 60 % of the rest of the working population). Around two thirds of women in ICT jobs work part-time because of their care responsibilities, while only one quarter of men choose to work part-time for this reason. Despite rather favourable working conditions, few women choose a career in the ICT sector, with women holding only 2 in 10 ICT jobs in the EU.


Lack of diversity in job descriptions, hiring systems and personnel practices

EIGE says many different factors contribute to gender segregation in the ICT sector, including a highly gendered organisational culture. This often consists of prejudices and institutionalised or informal barriers established in personnel practices, job descriptions, mobility ladders and professional networks.

Despite recent policy actions at EU and Member State levels, the gender pay gap persists. In 2018, on average, women’s gross hourly pay was 14.8 % lower than men’s (Eurostat, 2020).

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And for those in… a pay gap

Despite earning more than other female workers, women in ICT have lower monthly earnings than men.

Evelyn Regner, Chair of the European Parliaments Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality stressed that the burden of unpaid care work, the segregation of work sectors, the alarming numbers of violent acts against women, and the lack of women in leadership roles will not solve themselves.

”We need action by all EU countries, and we need binding measures. Quotas for company boards have had the biggest impact on advancing gender equality. Building bridges over the care, pay and pension gaps is the way forward.”


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