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Bridging the Gender Gap in the Digital Sector

CAREERSBridging the Gender Gap in the Digital Sector

There is a shortage of approximately a million specialists in the digital sector in Europe, and 53% of companies have difficulties in recruiting qualified workers in the ICT industry – this is pointed out by the report “Challenges of Women in Digitization and Digital Security.” The authors emphasize that to solve this problem, there is a need to encourage more women to participate in the digital economy. Increasing their involvement in the IT industry would help eliminate the skills gap and bring significant economic benefits to Europe. Despite progress in recent years, there are still many barriers.

“In the European Union, there is a shortage of about 1 million digital technology specialists. The EU’s response to this problem is, among others, the Digital Decade program, one of the goals of which is to increase the number of women in the ICT industry. In 2021, a study was carried out which shows that women in this sector in the EU constitute only 19.1% of experts,” says Kamila Pendyk, President of the Institute of Digital Affairs.

In Poland, the share of women working in the ICT sector is lower than the European average and, according to Eurostat, stands at 15.5%. Encouraging more women to work in this industry could partially meet Europe’s growing demand for digital experts and eliminate the skills gap in this field – it is concluded from the report “Challenges of Women in Digitization and Digital Security” by the Projekt PL Foundation prepared in collaboration with the Institute of Digital Affairs and CyberClue as part of the Polka XXI Century program.

“We conducted a study on the challenges of women in the field of digitization and digital security that they face in their daily work. This is probably the most comprehensive study in Poland, tackling the issue of women and the challenges they face in the IT industry. The report from this study includes a series of recommendations addressed to the government, non-governmental organizations, NGOs, and businesses,” says Kamila Pendyk.

The publication shows that all EU countries, including Poland, are facing numerous challenges in the field of employing women in the ICT sector. One of them is the fight against gender stereotypes. Specialists dealing with technologies are often presented exclusively as men. There is also a lack of role models that would inspire girls to choose such a career path. As a result, only a small percentage of girls and women study STEM subjects, which often marks the beginning of a career in the digital sector. Some of them, despite their education, later choose a different career.

“A barrier to women’s presence in the IT industry is also the so-called glass ceiling, which they still encounter. These are, among others, problems with promotion, because in the IT industry, male colleagues are promoted more often than female colleagues,” emphasizes the president of the Institute of Digital Affairs. “The European Union also points to the factor of resignation from a professional career. Women of working age, i.e. between 30 and 44, most often resign from a career in the digital sector. This is the age at which they usually decide to start a family. That’s why in the report we recommend more support for women who return to work after maternity or parental leave, such as the possibility of remote work.”

The report “Challenges of women in digitization and digital security” shows that an important action encouraging women to undertake employment in the ICT sector could be improved flexibility at work, allowing them to reconcile their work responsibilities with domestic duties. The study shows that 1/4 of women cite the lack of balance between professional and personal life as the main reason for leaving the tech industry. Ensuring employment flexibility for women working in the digital sector would also bring economic benefits – if women with ICT education remained at their job positions, the EU would get an extra of approx. 16 billion Euro annually.

The authors of the report underscore that one of the reasons for the low participation of women in the digital sector is also the large wage gap between women and men. Statistics show that women on the same positions receive salaries on average 20% lower than men.

“We are already seeing several growth trends. In the IT industry, more and more women are being employed gradually, but our study shows that still only 15% of women hold managerial positions in IT departments in their companies. However, as many as 40% of our respondents indicated that women are not employed in IT departments at all, which shows that there is still much to do in Poland,” says Kamila Pendyk. “It is worth noting the fact that – according to McKinsey’s analysis– if Europe increased the participation of women in the technology sector to approx. 45% by 2027, the GDP would increase by 260-600 billion Euros.”

The European Institute for Gender Equality also points to similar economic benefits, estimating that eliminating gender disparities in STEM careers would help increase EU GDP per capita by 2.2–3% by 2050.

“In the study related to the challenges of women in the digital sector, which we conducted together with CyberClue on behalf of the Projekt PL Foundation as part of the Polka XXI Century program, we pointed out four megatrends that, in our opinion, will play an increasingly important role in the coming years,” says the co-author of the report.

The first one is “more diversity”, which means the need for more diversity in the work environment. The next one – “not enough women bosses” – shows that there are still too few women in managerial positions.

“Training awareness is a trend of growing awareness of the need for training and enhancing digital skills. In our study, 20% of respondents pointed out that in their companies, there are special training programs for women. This is only and as much as 20%, but this trend is growing,” enumerates Kamila Pendyk.

This is essential because, according to 75% of surveyed women, access to training and certification funding sources and mentoring from experienced women in the IT/digital security industry (69.2%), and internships and professional practices in IT and digital security (64.9%), are crucial for activating them in the IT and cybersecurity sector.

“On the other hand, the e-learning age is a trend that has been ongoing since the pandemic when there was an explosion of online training, and it is still growing. 70% of our respondents indicated that they are being trained online, choosing to enhance their skills in e-learning courses,” emphasizes the expert.

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