We are living in an ICT world and I am an ICT girl

Laura Martinez Alvaro

Partner-director at BreakTheGap

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We invited Laura Martínez Álvaro, partner-director at BreakTheGap, an organization specialized in consulting for gender balanced organizations, to share her view on Girls in ICT (Information and Communications Technology) day.

asian woman speaking at the phone

Editor’s note: Laura is a Diversity and Gender certified facilitator by the International Labour Organization PGA program and has been appointed UN Women 2015-16 Global Champion for the Empower Women initiative.

Some of us still remember Madonna singing that she was a “material girl in a material world” back in 1984. The very same year George Orwell had foreseen a world controlled via ICT (Information and Communications Technology), as described by his iconic novel named after that same year. Maybe Orwell’s predictions were premature, but it only took one more decade to popularize Internet and to gradually incorporate technology into our daily life.

Today, Madonna would most likely be singing she wanted to be an “ICT girl” in a digital world. Indeed, our society has become increasingly digitalized and tech decisions impact how we communicate, travel, shop, do business, and spend our free time. With the development of artificial intelligence (AI), technology will not only address digital services or products, it will go further and involve thinking machines in key strategic business decisions that will affect our healthcare, employment, environment, transportation and other areas in new ways.

Technology-related jobs are predicted to grow dramatically over the next decade. In fact, the United States will need more than 1.7 million additional engineers and computing professionals to fulfill demand 1. The challenges brought by this digital era will continue to impact our workforce and talent pipeline. Apparently, more than one-third of the desired skills are not yet considered crucial today 2. It’s also important to highlight that the number of jobs traditionally held by women, such as office and administration, will go down dramatically with the rise of robots and will further widen the tech gender gap 3.

In this context, the “ICT girl” is an important topic to include on today’s global agenda because women are shockingly underrepresented in technological organizations and play a very small role in decision-making positions. According to the last European Commission report on women active in the ICT sector, only 30% of the around 7 million people working in ICT are women and only 19.2% of ICT-sector workers have female bosses, compared to 45.2% of non-ICT workers. The findings highlight that women leave the sector mid-career to a greater extent than men, even though they earn 9% more than in non-ICT careers.

One way to reverse this trend is to encourage young people, and in particular women, to take up an ICT-related career. Only 29 out of every 1000 female graduates has a computing or related degree, and only 4 go on to work in ICT directly 4. According to the latest U.S. census, only 1 in 7 women with a degree in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) actually works in that area 5. STEM careers are still male dominated and female graduates continue to be focused in social sciences, business and law. This holds true for most countries analyzed 6.

It is clear that women are needed in these fields, but not only to expand the talent pool. Women’s experiences — along with men’s experiences — should inform and guide the direction of engineering and technical innovation. Companies with more women taking on leadership roles find an increase in “innovation intensity” 7. Additionally, there is a positive correlation between talent competitiveness and the strength of a country’s economy, according to INSEAD’s research 8. Looking through data, it is only logical that we celebrate ICT and Girls International Day.

Yet, as an ICT woman myself, I often wonder why there is greater support for young girls entering ICT than there is for retaining women that are already in the ICT sector. It makes me want to sing along with Madonna.

1Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing. AAUW, 2015.

2The Future of Jobs. World Economic Forum, 2016.

32017 Global Risk Report. World Economic Forum, 2017.

4Active women in ICT . European Commission, 2013.

5Breaking the STEM ceiling for girls. World Bank Let's Talk Development blog, 2017.

6 Sources: Eurostat Statistics and World Bank Education Statistics based on UNESCO Institute for Statistics

7Does Female Representation in Top Management Improve Firm Performance? A Panel Data Investigation. University of Maryland and Columbia Business School, 2012.

8Global talent competitiveness index, INSEAD 2015.