Digital Studies and Women in Europe

by NDFAuthors

  • Dec 29, 2014

If women held digital jobs as frequently as men do, Europe’s GDP could be raised by around 9 billion euros a year.

This year saw the 199th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace, a name seemingly anonymous  to many, a woman who is one of the greatest mathematicians and computer programmers this world has ever seen. Lovelace is considered the world’s first computer programmer after creating the first algorithm for use on a machine. Fast-forward to 2014 where is an unfortunate shortage of women in digital studies and careers; this needs to change, as ICT is the key to future European growth and women need to play a greater role in the industry in order for this to be achieved. Women account for 17% of Computer Science graduates, fewer than 30% of employees in the ICT sector, and a mere 9% of European app developers. The two problems that the European Commission intends to act on are that many girls do not choose ICT-related studies at school, and even fewer choose careers in ICT. Subsequently, a study entitled Women Active in the ICT Sector was commissioned to analyze these problems in more detail.


That Brain of mine is something more than merely mortal; as time will show –  Ada Lovelace.

With the ICT sector growing at a rate of 120,000 new jobs every year, the Study hasfound that by 2020 Europe could face a shortage of 900,000 ICT professionals, severely hampering the economy and limiting the scope for growth. Most strikingly, however, is the finding that if women held digital jobs as frequently as men do, Europe’s GDP could be raised by around 9 billion euros a year, that equates to 1.3 times the GDP of Malta! Furthermore, analysis has found that underrepresentation of women is extremely evident in particular job positions within the sectors  such as technical and decision-making posts. Four recommendations were agreed upon based on the study’s findings; build a renewed image of the sector; empower women in the sector; increase the number of women entrepreneurs in the sector; improve working conditions in the sector. European initiatives such as the ‘Grand Coalition for Jobs’ and the ‘Ada Lovelace Conference’ are acting to effect these changes as a matter of urgency.


Grand Coalition for Jobs

This initiative is described by the European Commission as “a multi-stakeholder partnership that endeavors to facilitate collaboration among business and education providers, as well as public and private actors, to take action and attract young people into ICT and to retrain unemployed people.” The initiative’s aim is to see a substantial increase in supply of trained ICT practitioners by 2015 in order to safeguard growth in the sector. International forums like the World Economic Forum in Davos in February 2014 have been used by Former European Commission President Barroso and Former Vice President Neelie Kroes to engage more stakeholders into the initiative. Here, CEOS from across the globe were invited to endorse the Davos Declaration on the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. Recently, parallel national coalitions have been launched across Europe: in Bulgaria, Greece, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Poland. These countries all face a different set of challenges due to their diversity of educational systems and labor market conditions and, thus, more localized coalitions facilitate the discovery of country-specific solutions for the shortage of ICT specialists. An example of a national coalition is ‘Women and Girls Go Digital in Greece’ where the Ministry of Interior found that women have a higher return on investment than their male counterparts (50% higher). On the back of this finding, a detailed National Action Plan was presented in April 2014 laying out the target of enhancing the digital and entrepreneurial skills of women in Greek society.


Ada Lovelace Conference

Held at the Stevens Institute of Technology, the Ada Lovelace Conference aims at expanding the influence of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This year’s Conference saw Valerie Aurora, recognized as one of ‘Femme-O-nomics Top 50 Women to Watch in Technology’ and cited in 2012 as one of the 6 most influential ICT thinkers by SC Magazine, as the keynote speaker. Valerie Aurora discussed a wide variety of papers on Lovelace’s work, issues affecting women in computer science, and the broader societal implications of her story. Furthermore, there was a focus on Lovelace’s life outside of her academia, attendees learnt that she rode horses, had secret affairs, went to late-night salons, suffered through various health problems, played the harp, and was a keen gambler on horses. This reflects the aim of the wider Ada Initiative, and whilst much focus is given to her ICT and Mathematical achievements, it is important for young girls and women interested in a career in the industry to have an exciting and successful role model to inspire them.