Women in IT: A €9bn GDP boost for Europe
As the industry faces future skills shortages it's an issue that needs to be addressed, especially since Twitter's disclosure, which came in a blog post by Janet Van Huysse, the company's Vice President for diversity and inclusion, has attracted the media spotlight.
So why are there so few women working in IT across Europe? And what can be done to remedy the situation and attract, retain and nurture female digital talent?
Figures from the European Commission (EC) show that there are around seven million people working in IT across the continent. However, only 30% of these people are women.
In fact, women are under-represented at all levels within the sector, particularly in decision-making and managerial positions and much more so than in other industries. Only 19% of IT sector workers have female bosses, compared to 45% of non-IT workers.
At the same time, the IT industry itself is growing fast, with more than 120,000 new jobs being created across Europe every year. Taking gender out of the equation for a moment, there is also a lack of skilled professionals, whether male or female, to fill these roles.
Indeed, the EC calculates that by 2015, there could be 900,000 IT jobs left vacant because employers cannot find suitably qualified candidates to take on.
There are clearly plenty of opportunities out there within the IT industry for those with the desired skills and experience, and wages are generally higher than in many other sectors. So what is stopping women from embarking on careers in IT?
Making IT attractive
There is a very obvious need to attract more women to the IT industry, and many people believe that efforts need to begin as early as possible while girls are still in school and university.
According to European Union data, there has been an alarming drop in the number of girls studying IT at degree level in recent years, with only 29 out of every 1,000 female graduates specialising in an IT-related subject compared to 95 male graduates.
Of these, only 4% go on to actually work in the IT sector, even though many more of them have the potential to not only do well in the industry, but to actually thrive.
So, what's standing in their way? Nancy Hammervik, Senior Vice President for industry relations at the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), blames a "false image" of what the IT sector is actually like and the kind of jobs that are available.
"Many girls still perceive IT as too 'male' and too maths and science-oriented; a dull, desk-bound world of keyboards, codes and algorithms, embodies by the stereotype of the IT professional as a 'geek in the basement'," she explained.
"The IT industry has to do a better job of articulating what a career in IT really entails. Many young women have no idea that there are an array of exciting people-focused careers in IT, from project coordinators and managers to marketing consultants and trainers."
What is being done?
It seems that the IT sector, both in Europe and in many other parts of the world, is well aware of the gender imbalance that exists and is making efforts to do what Ms Hammervik is suggesting.
CompTIA, for example, has launched a programme called Dream IT, which aims to inspire young women through a series of workshops and networking events. It is also being taken into schools, so that representatives can speak directly to girls about careers in technology.
There's also Google's Made with Code initiative, which is encouraging women to try coding through introductory projects and resources. The company is committing $50 million to the scheme, which it hopes will make computer science more relevant to girls worldwide.
Politicians are also keen to address the under-representation of women in IT. In March this year, the European Commission launched a campaign called Every Girl Digital to find and celebrate female digital role models who could motivate girls to see IT as a potential career path.
So why are industry bodies, technology companies and governments in Europe so keen to boost the participation of women in the IT sector? Surely it's not just about equality?
Big benefits all round
Addressing the gender imbalance would have big benefits for both IT employers and the European economy, as well as for women themselves who could enjoy some fantastic opportunities within the industry.
According to a study by the EC on women active in the IT sector, companies that have women in decision-making or managerial positions achieve a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% better total return to shareholders.
And of course, aside from profits and performance, at a time when skills shortages are looming it makes perfect sense to try to widen the talent pool as much as possible and attract more women to the sector.
As for the economic benefits, the EC research demonstrates the positive fiscal impact that could be felt if more women were to enter the digital jobs market across Europe.
It shows that the EU area could enjoy a €9 billion boost to GDP if there were 115,000 more women working in the continent's IT industry, which equates to an average €78,000 in increased productivity per female worker.
"We now know, beyond doubt, that more women in a business means a healthier business," said Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda.
"It is high time the IT sector realised this and allowed women a chance to help the sector and Europe's economy benefit from their enormous potential," she remarked.