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Brussels, 8 March 2007

Women's careers and ICT: An untapped potential

The proportion of women graduates in information and communications technology (ICT) in Europe is falling, especially compared to other regions of the world. To promote women's careers in ICT, the Commission presents today, on International Women's Day, the video diaries of 6 young women who were given the chance to accompany a successful female engineer or technologist for a day. These show the promising career prospects that are possible for women in ICT.

"Getting more women into ICT careers would be a force for change and a major boost for this key economic sector in Europe", said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, on the occasion of International Women's Day in Brussels. "With Europe facing a skills shortage in this sector, we must encourage more women to study ICT subjects and to take up a career in this field, so as to increase capacity of the workforce and to tap into women's creative potential."

The ICT sector contributes 5.3% of EU's GDP and 4% of its jobs. It continues to achieve above-average growth and is still the EU’s most innovative and research-intensive sector.

However, by 2010 there will be an expected shortfall of 300,000 qualified ICT staff. Therefore Europe needs more ICT professionals. Although computer studies graduates across the EU-27 grew by 133% from 1998 to 2004, Europe is actually falling behind comparably. In 1998 computing graduates accounted for 2.3% of all graduates in the EU-27, by 2004 it had increased to 4%. In the US it rose from 2.3% to 5% and in South Korea from 1% to 6%.

For women the statistics are even worse. The proportion of women computer graduates fell from 25% in 1998 to 22% in 2006. In other regions of the world the percentage is higher: Canada (27%), the US (28%), and South Korea (38%).

The proportion of women working in ICT varies widely across the EU from 6% in Luxembourg to 41% in Lithuania. But those who enter ICT careers often drop out or move to a different career. Also, fewer women make it to senior management positions, particularly in the ICT sector. About 66% of telecommunications companies have no women on their board of directors. Moreover, in 14 major ICT companies, less than 10% of board members are women and in telecommunications it is only about 6%.

The Commission is therefore trying to encourage more women graduates to take up a career in ICT industry, and to stimulate an interest amongst those taking their first career decisions whilst still at school. This will create a larger, more diverse and creative workforce. Efforts are underway to show women that ICT careers can be challenging, rewarding and fun, and to overcome negative images and stereotypes. However, it needs industry and other stakeholders' support.

To give young women a taste of what an ICT job would be like the Commission launched a shadowing exercise, in which young women accompanied a female role model for a day. Five leading technology companies (BT, Cisco, Infineon, Motorola and Nokia) took part in this first pilot exercise with the European Commission. Commissioner Reding was herself also "shadowed" during her participation in the IST conference and exhibition in Helsinki last November.

A detailed European Commission study on Women in the ICT sector has just begun. The findings are expected October 2007.

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