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Girls in tech event highlights opportunities, challenges facing the industry

Helen Cunningham

Corporate & Business Development Liaison, Amadeus Hotel IT

Some predictions say that 90% of all future jobs will require digital skills – this means an ever widening gender gap as today women represent just 30% of the technology workforce.

This notion was reiterated as girls and young women gathered in Madrid yesterday for an event honouring International Girls in ICT Day. I was lucky to attend the event, which was one of 50 trainings and mentoring sessions across 27 countries in Europe organised by Microsoft, seeking to inspire and provide girls and young women with access to digital skills workshops to prepare them for a future in which such skills will be critical.

Girls in tech event highlights opportunities, challenges facing the industry

It was great to feel the energy of more than 200 young women from secondary schools and universities across Spain who attended the event – the enthusiasm was further fuelled by inspiring opening videos from Microsoft.

Pilar Lopez, President of Microsoft Spain and Alfonso Alonso, Spain’s Minister for Health, Social Services and Equality, kicked off the program with a bevy of figures highlighting the skills and education gap:

  • In Spain, 54% of university students are women, yet only represent 25% of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students
  • Women represent only 18% of active professionals in the technology sector
  • Only 8% of Spanish teenage girls plan to pursue technical or STEM studies vs 23% of boys
  • EU estimates show that in 2020 there will be 825,000 vacant technology positions in the region

Minister Alonso noted that the ‘clichéd’ approach to education needed to be overcome to close the gap in these figures and empower women for the employment market of the future.

Thereafter, Nuria Oliver, Scientific Director, Telefonica R&D and Winner of the 2016 Ada Byron prize, delivered an amazing keynote session which took us from the casual teenage conversation with a friend that drove her to study Telecommunications Engineering to her work  at MIT Media Labs in the ‘90s; a look at the beginnings and future of artificial intelligence and mobile and her current passion, harnessing big data for social good. She is truly an exemplary role model for any young woman not sure whether pursuing STEM studies is worth the effort.

Girls in tech event highlights opportunities, challenges facing the industry

The event’s overall message was that no field is immune to the influence of technology, superbly illustrated by Silvia Leal of IE University, and as such, there is an absolute need for girls and women to be ready to participate in this job market.

All of the speakers were inspiring in their own right, a fact which was highlighted by the increased show of hands when the audience was later asked again asked about their interest in the technology field.

It’s great to know that Amadeus is also actively working to better understand and address some of the challenges women face in the tech industry.

This is indeed an inspired and inspiring program and series of events by Microsoft – which leaves me wondering how I can gate crash my eight year old daughter’s Robotics classes. Have a look at some of the speaker highlights here.


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