On 8 March of every year, the issue of the shortage of women in technical and scientific professions comes up again. Only 25% of people working in the tech sector are women, and they only account for 18% of digital experts. Despite existing initiatives, despite all efforts made over the years by the educational sector and other organisations, those figures are not changing. Why is this a problem? And are there other solutions to solve it?
In a world in which information is digitised and feeds algorithms which provide guidance, and sometimes even take decisions, understanding and mastering technology have become key skills for gaining access to power. Yet, International Women’s Day also reminds us each year that defending women’s rights also requires their presence in places of power.
Where can we look to find the female computer scientists and engineers who will bring their talents to technology companies? Where can we look to find those women who will help to ensure that our modern world does not exclude half the population from the digitisation that is currently underway? What if the answer to those questions was not found only in schools, but also in the course of one’s career?
It is likely that women having studied Economics, Tourism, Law or Communications did not envision themselves working for a technology company at the age of 18. Yet, they will have acquired many skills over the course of their careers: project management, team management, communication, technical popularisation, situation analysis, etc. What would prevent those women from developing their talent within technology companies where they could develop professionally while contributing to the development of tomorrow’s world?
We should tell women that they are entitled to envision themselves in jobs that they are not aware of but for which they are qualified.
Not by telling them how the technology works, but rather how it affects our world. By dusting off the image of a sector perceived as too male-dominated and closed off to those who are not technicians, coders or geeks. The technology sector offers a plethora of analytical, creative and human jobs. It offers opportunities for development and growth while working on societal issues such as tomorrow’s healthcare or a more sustainable and circular economy. And computer science studies are not a prerequisite for playing a role in the sector. We do need female computer scientists and engineers, of course, but there are many other types of opportunities to be found. Ségolène Martin, the founder of Kantify, a company working in the field of artificial intelligence, studied political sciences. Julie Foulon studied Finance prior to founding Molengeek and Girleek. The added value of diversity in all its forms is proven, including diversity of backgrounds and training.
On the other hand, we must help companies to showcase talented women who can serve as role models and inspire other women both within and outside their organisation. We must also encourage them to identify the unconscious biases that may exist in their internal processes. For instance, it has been observed that women, on average, only apply for a position if they meet 80% of the criteria in the job posting (compared to 20% for men). Consequently, the long lists of required skills contained in job descriptions ultimately filter out many more suitable female candidates than they bring in.
We must help companies to identify the diverse talents that do not identify themselves as suitable according to their historical standards.
There is an urgent need to reassess the impact that the technology sector can have on women, as well as the impact that women can have on the technology sector.
This task will have to be carried out over the long term, but it is worth the effort. The positive impact for private (and public) organisations is twofold. Firstly, it will contribute to reducing the shortage of talents faced by technology companies (see Agoria’s “Be the change” study for more on this topic). Secondly, making teams more diverse has a positive impact on companies’ economic results. All while opening up the field of possibilities for all girls and women that do not currently consider technology as a potential career path.
Belgium does not lack either skilled women or ambitious companies. Encouraging those two groups to come together to foster greater diversity among the creators of technology is a societal issue in which we believe and which cannot be ignored today.
Business Group Leader Manufacturing