Closing the Digital Gender Gap
Technology has become key in our life, reshaping the world we live in. The European Union has addressed this development by deciding to allocate 20% of the NextGenerationEU budget to the digital transformation of Europe’s industry and society. In this scenario diversity is a critical point, as it enables companies to look at solutions and products with a wider vision, creating value from a variety of perspectives. According to many international studies, companies that see diversity as a value perform better, hire better talent, have more engaged employees and retain workers better than companies that do not invest in diversity and inclusion. Despite the above, women remain widely underrepresented in IT roles.
As 2020’s #halfofit campaign highlighted, women are the basis for a strong society and deserve to participate equally in building the future of our communities. The recent inauguration of the United States’ first woman Vice President demonstrated that representation matters more than ever – in politics just as in the realm of digital development. Our world is evolving based on new technologies. This is why underrepresentation or outright exclusion of women from the tech world is an obstacle to social progress. Yet, due to societal norms or lack of support, there are still too little incentives for girls to follow science and math during their initial education. Today, according to a European study, only 17% of ICT specialists are women, 34% of STEM graduates are women, and women in the sector earn 19% less than men. Enabling women to access equal opportunities to pursue — and thrive in — STEM careers achieves four goals:
- Ensures a diverse and talented STEM workforce
- Prevents entrenched bias in technology and in the products and services it produces
- Helps to narrow the gender pay gap
- Enhances women’s economic security
In a non-legislative report adopted on 21 January 2021, Members of the European Parliament’s FEMM-Committee have called on the European Commission to address the serious gender gap within the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector. Among others, the report concludes that “if more women were to enter the digital jobs market, the sector would hugely benefit from an untapped talent pool of skills and variety of perspectives, which could create an annual EUR 16 billion GDP boost for the European economy”.
The European Union has been tackling the gender divide in recent years. One example is the EIGE Gender Equality Index, which focussed on the effects of digitalisation on the working lives of women and men in its 2020 report. The index underlines that women are underrepresented in new technologies i.e. in developing artificial intelligence, digital start-ups and high technology products. Overall, men dominate the development of new technologies across the EU and the expansion of work organised through online platforms is reproducing traditional gender inequalities, such as the gender pay gap and gender segregation. Current numbers from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report of 2018 showcase these inequalities, stating that only 22% of AI professionals globally are female, compared to 78 % who are male. In 2019, USD 92 of every USD 100 invested in European tech companies went to founding teams that were all men.
In addition to that, data has proven, time after time, that a more diverse workforce is not only more efficient and profitable, but also offers companies the chance to hear perspectives that were not previously present. It’s crucial for companies to have more intersectional voices heard across the tech industry, especially in leadership functions, and to encourage more diversity to ensure that they are creating solutions and technology for the modern world: one that is filled with people from different walks of life.
Europe must define and enforce plans and policies to fill this gap by giving women the chance to be more present in technology and to achieve the critical mass necessary to overcome tokenisation. Women make up half of the world: when we see the future evolving out of spaces where women are prevented from thriving, we have an obligation to first understand why, and to then take bold measures to close these gaps.
There is no time to lose to close the EU digital gender gap. Now is the right time, with the right incentives, innovative approaches and, thanks to the NextGenerationEU digital budget –the financial means. Used in smart and targeted ways, the EU can contribute to closing the gender pay gap, ending gender inequalities and stereotypes, and fighting discrimination to improve women’s performance in the EU labour market. The severity of the European digital gender divide leads to issues in a number of different areas. The recommendations proposed in this Manifesto will focus on three of them: Representation + Inclusion; Education + Training; and Future Funding.
COMBATTING STEREOTYPES & EXCLUSION
Fixing the Digital Sector instead of “fixing” Women
The digital economy, which is in fact becoming the only economy, provides jobs disproportionately to white men. Lack of role models, gender-related expectations and socio-cultural norms lower women’s participation in STEM and ICT training in labour market. In addition, a high number of women abandon their higher-level education, academic opportunities and careers in the ICT sector mainly due to a male-dominated environment, poor work-life balance as well as organisational constraints and culture problems.
- Promote the work of women in ICT and the digital sector. Female role-models are crucial in order to fight stereotypes in the digital sector – yet female voices are still excluded from public debate. Enhanced visibility could be achieved through 50/50 quotas on discussion panels organized by EU institutions or Member States. More specifically, targeted campaigns implemented by the European Commission and Member States can create a day or week of national media coverage and awareness of women in digital professions to strengthen support for the choice of IT as a profession by women (similar to the UK One World Media “Women Entrepreneurs Reporting Award” which highlights stories of successful women entrepreneurs).
- Fight exclusion by incentivising EU incubators and accelerators that receive HorizonEurope funding to establish a 50-50 gender balance of permanent staff. Only incentives and targets can ensure the inclusion of women, immigrants, people of colour and minoritised ethnicities in the business sector: the European innovation landscape should be among the earliest adopters of a gender-balanced approach.
- Creation of a gender equality index. Similar to the European Commission’s “Women in Digital Scoreboard” for Member States, the European Commission could create an equality index on hiring, retention and management statistics to provide orientation and to give ICT companies a competitive benchmark for annual progress reports on the gender pay gap.
- Design prizes and incentive schemes for start-up tech companies (under 200 employees). Smaller start-ups face challenges to hire top talent with limited resources. This is why, Member States could incentivise start-up companies to actively implement gender-balanced recruitment policies and measurable hiring targets by implementing a new ranking system. Here, start-ups could compete for cash prizes and the chance to be named 1st – 10th place, for example, in the “Top Gender-Equal-Tech-Companies in France” based on gender equality measurements.
TECH CAREER TRAINING
“Reinventing tech education for women to work in tech today…not in twenty years’ time”
Tech education must not only be ensured and promoted on an adolescent level but also throughout every career stage. Given that women have less time for leisure, due to socio-cultural and economic constraints (unpaid care-labour and domestic work), they must overcome several challenges to acquire necessary digital competencies. In addition to that, the current education path for IT experts attracts almost exclusively men. This is also because from an early age, men are culturally encouraged to use digital tools (i.e. video games), which is why they develop a higher familiarity with such devices, making them more likely to choose IT classes later on. As a result, women have the impression that pre-existing skills are required to participate in tech education. This leads to low, stagnating or declining levels of women taking up IT studies.
- Create targeted IT training for women, by women – modelled on successful women’s IT upskilling programs. Currently, successful and innovative adult IT training programs that target women exist throughout the EU. But few of these are sponsored by public funds. Systematically measure the sustainability of professional integration of women who have benefited from publicly funded support in order to assign funding to the most efficient IT training opportunities tailored to both the job market and to women with families. Examples for this can be evening/online-only classes, led by majority women mentors (e. “FrauenLoop”) or specific offers for women to change career paths (i.e. “Cyberwayfinder” upskilling women towards the Cyber Security industry).
- Establish women-focused academic ICT programs in Europe via:
- IT bachelor and master programmes with a minimum 50% mandatory quota for women
- IT bachelor and master programmes that combine IT with social-science disciplines (e.g. sociology & Artificial Intelligence, gender studies & web development).
- Fund IT careerscounselling for women at academic institutions. The problem of women in the sciences facing discouragement and/or discrimination has not yet been adequately addressed. The problem is not only gender-based, it is also related to the distance of the academic sciences from the commercial market. Information/training programs that provide career planning for EU women in the sciences and in technical areas of study could significantly increase the numbers of women who launch tech businesses or remain in scientific research fields.
FUNDING THE FUTURE OF WOMEN
- Fund all-female STEM and ICT innovation teams first. Public programs like Horizon 2020 favour mixed teams over all-female teams for research funding. Considering the huge data and knowledge gap,criteria should be changed to award preferential funding to all-female research teams in the digital or STEM funding.
- Develop ESG diversity index criteria for the EIF to adopt in funding women’s businesses based on a social goal of gender equality.The digital economy is largely funded by private funds and financiers, who are overwhelmingly male. At the venture fund level, EU women make up approximately 8% of fund investors, and typically hold peripheral roles (Head of Platform/Comms, Head of Ops). Research shows that women are more likely to invest in women, and that women are also more likely to invest in ESG-focused businesses. Without public incentives, an overwhelming majority of taxpayer money will go to EIF funding of male-only businesses.
- Dedicate an EU level Fund-of-Funds for women emerging fund managers. Raising a venture investment fund means months if not years of effort; most women cannot do this on a full-time, unpaid basis. A dedicated fund with a portion of taxpayer funds would mean women donot have to put up a 2% cash commitment just to create a fund at all. Funds receiving European Investment Fund (EIF) money tied to women emerging fund managers would increase investment in women-owned tech and tech-driven businesses.
Tech Career Training Initiatives
Cyberway Finder. Co-Founded by Rosanna Kurrer, the project “Cyberway Finder” offers a low-threshold entry into the world of cybersecurity. Given the growing importance of security in an increasingly digitised world, the project provides “cybersecurity upskilling” through a diverse range of trainings with the possibility to start a career in cybersecurity. Different tracks contain education for newcomers seeking to change their career, professional upskilling or general introductions into the world of cybersecurity. https://www.cyberwayfinder.com/
Woman and Code. An Austrian NGO that offers different series of study groups and workshops for women* in Java, WebDev and Python for beginners. The goal of the initiative is to facilitate the entry into the tech-world for women. Programmes are therefore specifically targeted at women, who want to switch careers (ie from Sales or Marketing) and/or are simply beginners interested in coding and technology. Education is based on community-based learning, training “women to teach themselves.” https://womenandcode.org/
Other, similar initiatives can be found all across Europe, including the United Kingdom (ie. Coders of Colour, an organisation aimed at empowering specifically people of colour to tap into tech), or Portugal (Portuguese Women in Tech).
Investing in Women
Unconventional Ventures. The nordic public angel syndicate “Unconventional Ventures” is focussed on investing in tech start-ups established by underrepresented founders (women, LGBTQ, PoC). With their investment firm, Nora Bavey and Thea Wessel want to change the male dominated funding-system. In 2020, UV launched its second “microfund” focused on women, people of colour and LGBTQ, using an inclusive funding system (starting at €500) open to all investors interested in funding such projects. https://www.unconventional.vc/about/
January Ventures. US and Europe-focused venture fund investing in early-stage start-ups. Focus is highly scalable future of work and health businesses – along with reduction of barriers to women founders. Its two partners, Jennifer Kaiser Neundorfer and Maren Thomas Bannon, have the vision of an equal opportunity tech ecosystem that is more female, more diverse and more distributed. https://www.january.ventures/
- Alexandra Geese, MEP (Greens EFA), Member of the IMCO and BUDG Committee, Green coordinator in the AIDA committee
- Dr. Nakeema Stefflbauer, Founder Frauen Loop
- Nora Bavey, Co-Founder Public Angel Syndicate Unconventional Ventures
- Eva Kaili, MEP (S&D), Chair European Parliament Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA)
- Prof. Michela Milano, PhD, Chair of the ALMA MATER Research Institute on Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence
- Emanuela Girardi, Founder of Pop AI
- Laura Sophie Dornheim, Tech-Entrepreneur and Politician (Greens, Germany)
- Margit Stumpp, Member of Parliament Germany (Greens)
- Marina Geymonat, Head AI Platform, TIM Telecom Italia Group
- Rosanna Kurrer, Co-Founder CyberwayFinder
- Julia Kloiber, Co-Founder Superrr Lab
- Elisa Lindinger, Co-Founder Superrr Lab
- Mariana Duarte Silva, Founder Village Underground Lisboa
- Dieter Janecek, Member of Parliament Germany (Greens)
- Tabea Rößner, Member of Parliament Germany (Greens)
- Konstantin von Notz, Member of Parliament Germany (Greens)
- Francesca Schmidt, Co-Vorständin für netzforma* e.V. – Verein für feministische Netzpolitik
- Rosella Muroni, Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies
- Mariarosaria Taddeo, Deputy Director Digital Ethics Lab Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
- Francesca Maria Montemagno, Founder of Smartive
- Initiative RoadTo50%
- Rosa D´Amato, Member of the European Parliament Greens EF
- Maria-Manuel Leitão-Marques, MEP (S&D), Member of the FEMM Committee
- Frederike Kaltheuner, Fund Manager EUAI Fund and Tech Policy Analyst
- Professor Sandra Wachter, University Oxford
- Magdalena Rogl, Head of Digital Channels Microsoft Germany
- Jan Philipp Albrecht, Minister for Energy, Agriculture, the Environment, Nature and Digitalization of Schleswig-Holstein
- Ann Cathrin Riedel, German Politician (Free Democratic Party), Chair of LOAD e.V. Verein für liberale Netzpolitik
- Renate Künast, Member of Parliament Germany (Greens)
- Marina Weisband, German politician (Greens)
- Anke Domscheit-Berg, German politician and activist (Member of Parliament Germany, „The Left“)
- Anna Christmann, Member of Parliament Germany (Greens), SheTranformsIT
SIGN UP FOR THE WEBINAR
Join us on March 4 for the #EUDigitalManifesto Conference to find out how we can transform Europe’s digital future
Technology has the potential to reshape the world we live in. The European Union has recognized this by allocating 20% of the €750 billion NextGenerationEU budget – a total of €150 billion – to the digital transformation of Europe’s industry and society. But with just 17% of women working in the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) branch, Europe’s tech start-ups are still overwhelmingly dominated by men.
Despite the impact of COVID falling disproportionately on women, 92 out of 100 investor dollars in Europe still go to all-male tech start-up founders. This imbalance reinforces a digital gender gap that leaves women behind in terms of access to jobs, education, and opportunities.
On March 4, from 6-8pm we will discuss how we can make Europe’s digital future more equal. The two-hour webinar will consist of three panels (each 35-minutes long) and feature high-ranking female politicians, tech-entrepreneurs, digital experts and investment professionals. Together with them, we will discuss what it needs to transform the digital industry and how we can learn from existing practices in Europe today.
This initiative was created by
Alexandra Geese, Member of the European Parliament
Dr. Nakeema Stefflbauer, Founder of Frauen Loop