This week I was participating in a unique event in Lisbon, Portugal. The “EU Leadership Academy: Women in the Digital Age”, gathered together 27 young ladies from every EU member state to discuss how to attract more women to work in technology.
Also among the goals – closing the gender gap by creating a world where women are empowered to not just participate but to lead us into the digital future. Today, the ICT sector is still heavily male-biased with three men per one female working in the industry.
Future game changers
Seeing the sparkling eyes of these selected participants on the first night gave me goosebumps. I have no doubt these girls are the future game changers and leaders no matter which sector they are going to work in. I was honoured to be asked to speak in the panel on “Women in technology and cybersecurity: breaking down stereotypes” along with Lina Gálvez Muñoz (Member of the European Parliament) and Vanda de Jesus (Executive Director of Portugal Digital). Our moderator Claudia de Castro Caldeirinha (Senior Leadership and Gender Equality Specialist) kicked off the panel with a question to the audience – what are the main stereotypes that stop women from working in technology?
We heard some very honest responses – being overly emotional, balancing work and family, focusing more on the social part and people, setting higher expectations for ourselves…I could continue this list with many other stereotypical attributes. Our discussion followed by focusing on the question of why women in tech see little potential in their career growth and what can be done to retain their actual talent?
Two efficient solutions
I brought out the two most efficient solutions to solve the issue. First, it is essential to provide proper education starting from a very young age. There is an excellent example in Estonia – the Unicorn Squad initiative which tackles the issue and offers hands-on activities for girls to get more familiar with robotics and tech to break down the myth that technology classes are only for boys. The classes are for girls between the age of 8-12. After kicking off the idea in 2019, there are currently 80 different clubs across Estonia. Girls meet up to work on real-life phenomena such as electricity, magnetism, sound, and speed. They also fly drones, build speakers and musical instruments out of carrots. As the former CIO of Estonia, Taavi Kotka, who is behind this initiative has said: “Presence of boys tends to shut down the girls since the boys are expected to be – and quite often are because of the very same expectation – much smarter when it comes to using technology. When there are no boys around to tell them how they do it all wrong, the girls feel much safer in opening up to learning new skills.”
Attending panels because of gender
Besides education, we also need role models – women in leadership positions in tech. Personally speaking, as I am attending different panels very often, it is still very rare that there is an equal number of male and female panelists in tech conferences.
We have to get used to seeing more women talking about technology and also the sector of cybersecurity. I told the participants about my own experience of often being asked to attend a panel just because I am a female speaker. This could be seen as insulting. However, I have turned this the other way around. Being able to attend a panel because I am a woman gives me more responsibility and has a larger impact than one can think of.
Get the men involved, too
But getting more women to tech is not just a problem for us. It is also a problem for men. We truly need to make male leaders aware of this shortage and encourage them to widen their circle too. Every single man who feels like he would want more equality in society should become at least a small part of the solution.
And if you are a woman working in a senior position in tech, please do consider also becoming a mentor to a junior female in tech. We need more of that. Everyone needs to get more comfortable and used to female leaders, including female leaders themselves. As Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld has said: “We need to look out for one another, work together, and act more like a coalition. As individuals, we have relatively low levels of power. Working together, we are fifty percent of the population and therefore have real power.” I couldn’t agree more. Public-private collaboration can also help to develop gender-responsive solutions – we need more effective policies and solutions that take into account the needs. Women also set higher standards and expectations for themselves than men do. Especially if women are getting offers for higher positions, we do not think we would be qualified enough.
Like our moderator Claudia de Castro also stated in the panel: “We could create a 16 billion boost for the EU economy if women talents contribute fairly to the digital market. And during these difficult times, this is what the EU economy needs. “
Why do we need more women to teach?
We, women, have to eliminate our internal barriers first. By encouraging each other to be braver and more selfish with our career choices and really go for what makes us sparkle. Getting more women into the tech sector would boost the economy and give everyone more fair conditions to work remotely and get equal salaries. We have to accept the new opportunities and make an opportunity fit for us, rather than the other way around.
digital transformation adviser at the e-estonia briefing centre