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Women's careers and ICT: Frequently Asked Questions

European Commission - MEMO/07/95   08/03/2007

Other available languages: none

MEMO/07/95

Brussels, 8 November 2007

Women's careers and ICT: Frequently Asked Questions

On International Women's Day, EU Commissioner Viviane Reding, responsible for Information Society and Media, showcases the promising career prospects that are possible for women in information and communication technology (ICT) by presenting video diaries of six young women who accompanied successful female engineers or technologists for a day.

Why is the Commission concerned about women and ICT?

The ICT sector is a key contributor to EU growth. It contributes 5.3% of EU's GDP and 4% of its jobs. It also accounts for 20% of economy-wide labour productivity growth. Despite the burst of the internet bubble in 2001, the ICT sector continues to achieve above-average growth and is still the EU’s most innovative and research-intensive sector, accounting for 25% of the total EU research effort in the business sector.

However, less and less young people, particularly women, take up ICT-related subjects or pursue an ICT career. Without the necessary number of well-skilled employees the sector will not remain competitive. Several ICT companies have already reported a skills gap, meaning they cannot find the people with the right education and training needed for the companies to improve and grow – or even to maintain current activities. It is expected that there will be a shortage of 300,000 qualified staff in this sector by 2010. This was also recognised at the Spring Competitiveness Council last month, which talked about the importance of “attracting young research talent into research careers”.

One way to reverse this negative trend is to encourage young people, particularly women, to take up an ICT-related career.

What is the trend among ICT graduates overall?

There has been an annual increase in the numbers graduating in ICT-related subjects. The number of graduates in computing across the EU-27 is up from 60,000 in 1998 to 137,000 in 2004 – an increase of 133%.

Graduates from computing (ISCED 5/6) in EU-27 [Thousands][Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Source: Eurostat

However, it can be seen that the EU-27 lags behind some other major economies, in particular in the share of computing graduates it produces. This is particularly the case with South Korea. In 2004, computing graduates accounted for just below 6% of all graduates from higher education in South Korea.

Computing graduates as a percentage of total higher education graduates

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Source: Calculations by European Research Associates based on EUROSTAT data
(Data for Canada for 2001 to 2003 are estimates)

Although Europe is supplying more ICT graduates compared with the rest of the world – especially the US, China and India – Europe is falling behind. For example, the EU-27 and the US had an equal proportion of computing graduates in 1998 – about 2.3% of all graduates. But while this proportion had increased to 4% in Europe by 2004, it had gone up to 5% in the US.

What is the situation with female ICT graduates?

The total of female graduates is increasing every year. In 2004 58% of all graduates were female. The number of women graduating from higher education has increased in recent years in all fields of education, including computing, electrical and electronic engineering, and telecommunications. From 1998 to 2004 there was an increase of 133% in computing graduates, and of 112% in engineering and engineering trades.
[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Despite this encouraging increase, it is still a predominately male sector. The share of female graduates in computing as a percentage of all computing graduates has slightly decreased in recent years. In 2004, female computing graduates represented less than 25% of all computing graduates in the EU-27.

Share of female and male computing graduates (EU-27)

Source: Calculations by European Research Associates based on EUROSTAT data

Are women in other economies more interested in ICT?

The share of female graduates in computing as a percentage of all computing graduates is higher in the other major economies of Canada, South Korea, and the US.
[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Share of female and male computing graduates (ISCED 5/6) in 2004

Source: Calculations by European Research Associates based on EUROSTAT data

Are women progressing to a career in ICT?

In 2004 the share of female computing professionals varied between EU countries from 6% in Luxembourg to 41% in Lithuania.

Proportion of persons employed as computing professionals by gender (2004)

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Source: Calculations by European Research Associates based on Eurostat Labour Force Survey

Women who enter ICT careers often drop out or move to a different type of career. Fewer women also make it to the upper management level and this is particularly true for the ICT sector.

A recent analysis by European Research Associates of 161 major European companies found that only 8.9% of the members of their board of directors were women.

An analysis of 150 companies in the telecommunications sector in Europe found that on average 6% of directors were women. About 66% of companies had no women on the board of directors at all.
[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Breakdown of board members for 150 companies in the European Telecommunications sector (2007)

Source: European Research Associates

What is the Commission doing to interest more women to take up a career in the ICT sector?

The Commission is trying to reverse the negative trend by encouraging more women to take up a career in ICT in the first place, and interesting them in the sector while they are still young and before they make the final choice of subjects. Efforts are underway to show women that careers in ICT can be challenging, rewarding and fun. The aim is to overcome negative images and stereotypes, such as "ICT is too hard; it's only for "geeks"; it's only for boys". However, the Commission also needs support from industry and other stakeholders.

The Commission launched a shadowing exercise, working together with some leading companies active in Europe to give young women a taste of what a job in ICT would be like. The idea has been to show them what a typical day would be like, by accompanying or "shadowing" a female role model for a day. Five leading technology companies (BT, Cisco, Infineon, Motorola and Nokia) have taken part in this first pilot exercise together with the European Commission. Commissioner Viviane Reding was shadowed for a day by a young woman during the IST Event in Helsinki last year.

The experiences during these six shadowing days have been filmed and the video was presented today on International Women's Day. Raising awareness is very important. The video and accompanying poster will be disseminated through the European Schools Network aiming to reach as many schools as possible in Europe. A dedicated website (http://ec.europa.eu/itgirls) is acting as an information forum, highlighting the different activities going on in this area, and giving advice and information for young women considering ICT and companies which would like to know more or get involved.

How can we keep women in the ICT sector?

The European Commission has launched a study to examine best practices throughout Europe, to learn from those who have been looking at this issue, and to spread and exchange good ideas and best practices. The results of this study are expected in October.

Women in ICT needs action at many levels and by all involved – in schools, universities and in the workplace, by educators, employers and employment legislators. This calls for the cooperation of Member States, academia, and industry.


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