It’s the economy stupid: get more women in technology to boost GDP

18 Dec 2013 | Viewpoint
Girls outperform boys in STEM subjects, but don’t translate this potential into future careers. Now, Microsoft is pushing for more women in ICT

As part of the DigiGirlz campaign, software giant Microsoft hosted events across 18 countries in Central and Eastern European in November, to raise awareness about the lack of women in ICT and to encourage young women to explore technology as a career option .

Young women were given the chance to visit local Microsoft offices, meet executives, and receive hands-on tutorials with new technologies. They could, “See first-hand what it means to have a career in technology,” says Adrianna Zammit, Microsoft Country Manager for Cyprus and Malta. 

A career in ICT ought to be an appealing choice: the statistics show women in the sector earn almost nine per cent more than women in other parts of the economy, have greater flexibility in arranging their work schedules, and are less likely to be unemployed.

But for one reason or another, women are not availing of the opportunities present in the technology sector, with recent figures showing that just 29 out of every 1,000 female graduates have a degree in ICT, compared to 95 out of 1,000 men. But for Zammit there’s an “even more worrying” statistic: only 4 in 1,000 women will eventually work in the ICT sector.

Failing to attract, and retain, women in this sector has negative consequences for the entire economy, with a recent report by the European Commission estimating that if as many women as men worked in ICT, European GDP would be boosted annually by around €9 billion. 

“In our teams at Microsoft, we see how much you benefit from diverse opinions that equal representation brings,” said Zammit.  The figures agree with her, showing companies which are more inclusive of women in management achieve a 35 per cent higher return on equity than their counterparts.

Changing mind-sets – before it’s too late

“The idea is to break down the misconception many young women have about a career in technology,” said Zammit. The sooner you can do this, the better.  

“At 14 or 15 years old, girls are already starting to decide what [subjects] to study and are beginning to prepare for their future careers. You need to target them at this age. You can’t wait until university level,” Zammit said.

The way a career is presented to women is also important, and it should reflect the whole spectrum of jobs available in this sector, “Many girls are taught programming,” said Zammit, “and if they don’t like it, they think that this is the only option for a career in technology.”

But this is not the case, with opportunities in management, finance, and human resources in the technology sector.

Fighting unemployment

Creating interest amongst young women and men in the technology sector, and so encouraging them to pursue relevant education programmes, is particular pressing at a time of soaring youth unemployment in Europe. The Commission recently found that forty per cent of companies recruiting or trying to recruit ICT specialists report difficulties in finding qualified talent. “And jobs in the ICT sector are only expected to grow,” said Zammit. It is forecast that Europe will have 900,000 unfilled ICT jobs by 2015.

Microsoft offers internship opportunities to young people across its offices in Europe “This allows the students to build their CVs, and gain an insight into how a multinational company works,” said Zammit. 

The programme has proved to be a success, with many of the interns staying on in Microsoft, or obtaining employment elsewhere.

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