The European Commission recently published a report which urges ICT sector firms to recruit more women, not simply in order to attain a better social and gender balance, but first and foremost because of the economic benefits this shift would bring.
The percentage of women in the new Information and Communication Technology industry – in jobs ranging from a video games developer to a digital communications specialist – is low, to say the least. This basic female under-representation, which is particularly marked in this sector, is linked to a broader set of issues. On the one hand, women do not on the whole seem to want to study information technology-related subjects, while on the other hand those who do work in the sector tend to leave it relatively early to go and work elsewhere. As far as the European Commission is concerned, given the relentless growth of the ICT sector, this lack of female contributions not only represents a stark social imbalance, it also entails a substantial loss in terms of European competitiveness.
Technology: toys for boys?
The Commission report reveals that although establishing gender parity in both the public and private sphere was always going to be a long haul, most economic sectors have seen significant statistical improvements recently. However, only 19% of ICT-sector workers in Europe have a female boss, compared to 45% of non-ICT workers. This inequality can be traced right back to the fact that boys and girls prefer to study different subjects at school. Of 1,000 women college graduates with first degrees, only 29 hold a degree in an ICT-related subject, versus 95 men, and only 4 in 1000 women graduates will go to work in the ICT sector. The study puts forward a number of possible explanations for these phenomena, using data from questionnaires filled in by women across Europe. While personal reservations and socio-psychological traits such as an aversion to hard bargaining, a low risk-appetite and lack of self-assertiveness are doubtless contributory factors, most of the problems nevertheless appear to stem from external factors – first and foremost a strongly male-dominated environment and generally strong stereotyping regarding the role of women.
Having women on board improves productivity
Announcing the release of the report, Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President responsible for the Digital Agenda, stressed that having women in a company strongly boosts efficiency and productivity. The estimates put forward in the study are indeed very positive, indicating that organisations which include more women in their management echelons achieve a 35% higher return on equity than exclusively male-led firms. It should also be noted that even though there are fewer women working in the ICT sector, those that do work there earn almost 9% more than women in other parts of the economy. The potential extra contribution from women in ICT services could bring a €9 billion annual GDP boost to Europe, say the report’s authors. However, in order to get there, not only will the internal culture at ICT firms have to change, they will also need to build a fresh image of the sector in the eyes of women and society at large. Stressing the benefits of a more inclusive approach, Neelie Kroes underlined that “every woman in a digital job is a triple victory: for the women themselves, for the company, and for Europe's economy.”