Brussels, 6 March 2008
Careers in information and communications technology (ICT) are often thought to be restricted to men. Such a common stereotype is far from the truth. Although the proportion of women graduating in engineering or computer science is still very low, young girls can expect a successful and rewarding career in the ICT sector. This topic is at the core of a conference organised today, ahead of International Women's day (8 March), in Brussels, where the European Commission will encourage young girls in Europe to "Move out of the shadow and seize the opportunITy".
"It is unacceptable that Europe lacks qualified ICT staff. If this shortage of computer scientists and engineers is not addressed, it will eventually slow down the European economic growth and Europe runs the risks of falling behind its Asian competitors", said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "We need to overcome common stereotypes which describe ICT careers as boring and too technical for women, and instead encourage women to succeed in this exciting, innovative and multi-facetted sector".
The ICT industry contributes to a quarter of EU's total growth and 4% of its jobs but there is a shortage of around 300,000 qualified staff. It is therefore of the utmost importance to encourage young people – including women – to choose a career in this sector. If we fail to do so, European competitiveness will suffer.
Although the number of engineering graduates increased significantly across the EU-27 from 150,965 in 1998 to 320,950 in 2004, its yearly growth rate is decreasing exponentially from 60% in 1998 to 10% in 2004. This situation is rather similar to the USA's where the percentage of first year college students listing computer as their favourite major has declined from almost 4% to 1%, the lowest rate for computer science since 1977!
The situation for women is even more worrying.
On the positive side, the proportion of female graduates at university level has increased in almost all areas in Europe, the downside being that it still remains low in engineering degrees where only 19% were female in 2004. In some countries such as Austria, Portugal and Poland, the number of female computer science graduates has even significantly dropped from 1998 to 2005.
Women are more and more present at the decision-making level in major ICT companies but are still under-represented. An analysis made in October 2007 on 150 European companies in the Telecoms sector in Europe found that the average percentage of women on boards of directors was 6%. This is clear evidence that there is still a lot of work to be done to attract women to take up a career, and to remain in the ICT sector.
The European Commission began its pilot exercise with the "Shadowing initiative" two years ago to stimulate the interest of more young women, who are at the point of deciding on their future career. The scheme offers young women the experience of accompanying a female senior manager working in the ICT sector during a typical working day. Ahead of International Women's day this year, the Commission presents today the results of the 2007 "Shadowing initiative" in Brussels. This conference includes workshops on how to attract women in ICT careers. In 2007, the exercise gave more than 50 young girls the opportunity to discover what a job in ICT would be like, within 20 major companies around Europe.
Given the success of previous years, Commissioner Viviane Reding this year wants to go one step further. Together with industry she will initiate a "European Code of Best Practices for Women in ICT". This aims to stop the "leaky pipeline" phenomenon and breakdown some of the stereotypes concerning work in the sector. The industry is expected to agree on the Code by Women's Day 2009.
For more information:
The "Shadowing videos" of 6 young women, each paired with a successful career
woman working in Information Technology in 2007, are available on this website:
On International Women's Day:
List of participant companies and IT institutes
Athens Information Technology — AIT
Consorzio per il Centro di Biomedicina Molecolare Scarl — CBM
European Organization for Nuclear Research — CERN
Joint Research Centre — JRC
Thales Alenia Space