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European Commission

Neelie Kroes

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

ICT is a woman's world

UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development /New York City

20 September 2013

To add your comment to this speech, see the social version of the speech here

Thanks. I've long been passionate about getting more women into information and communications technology.

I know I'm not the only one. In fact the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, will be spending her year promoting women in science and tech. That's when you know your issue is in the mainstream.

Miss America is not always an institution you associate with for radical feminism, to say the least. But good for her. And good for all the girls who are going to get a boost from that.

There is a problem about women in ICT. Overall, over half of entrepreneurs are women. Yet our new European study shows, for ICT entrepreneurs, it's under one in five.

Only 3% of women with a first degree have it in an ICT-related subject. For men it's nearer 10%. Plus women tend to drop out of those careers earlier, and don't come back in. So it starts with education, but it doesn't end there.

So why is that? It could be cultural traditions and stereotypes. Or barriers internal or external: from a lack of self confidence, to worries about work-life balance. Or – probably – some mix of all of them.

One thing is clear: it is not about the sector itself, or its rewards. Women in ICT get a 9% pay boost over other sectors. With a gender pay gap of zero – what other sector can say that? And it's rewarding in other ways too. Of course there's lots of geeks working in ICT – men and women. Nothing wrong with that! But the evidence shows women enjoy working in this sector; they find it challenging, sociable, creative.

Many inspirational role models are showing that women can triumph in ICT. On both sides of the Atlantic. From Sheryl Sandberg to Martha Lane Fox. And I think seeing those role models, bringing them out in the open, has a big effect.

But I'd just like to remind you why this matters.

Digital technology is changing our world, transforming almost every aspect of our lives. It's a huge sector of our economy, a huge source of jobs – and growing rapidly. ICT innovation is something we need to keep competitive and productive.

If we're missing women, we're missing out. It's a huge pool of entrepreneurial talent. We need to tap into it. There cannot be any obstacles.

There's a huge potential for our economy. If women took part in ICT careers as much as men, the in Europe alone would be around 9 billion euros; that's bigger than the entire economy of some countries!

And ICT has so much potential for women too. From work tools that make flexible working a reality. To sites and apps that cater to women's needs – and I don't just mean by being coloured pink. Women need to be there on the inside making those innovations.

In short, digital means opportunity. Opportunity for our economy. And opportunity for those who know how to grab it. Both of those will suffer if we don't fix this problem. We can't open up a new digital divide. That would be bad for our economy, bad for our innovation, and bad for the many millions of talented women out there.

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