Où en est l’émancipation féminine dans le secteur ICT?

© Mine Dalemans

Lors de l’événement She Goes ICT organisé par Data News, Ingrid De Latte prononça un discours remarqué sur l’émancipation féminine dans le secteur ICT. En voici la transcription (uniquement en anglais).

Lors de l’événement She Goes ICT organisé par Data News, Ingrid De Latte prononça un discours remarqué sur l’émancipation féminine dans le secteur ICT. En voici la transcription (uniquement en anglais). Ladies and gentlemen,
Good evening,

In just a few moments, the ICT Woman of the Year 2011 will be announced. Let me be the first to congratulate the winner.

I have been asked to give a speech first. The topic I’ve chosen is…. “What about the emancipation of the ICT industry?” I will keep it short and get straight to the point.

First, I would like to share some observations with you. Let’s start with the medical world. Why do so many women work as doctors or nurses in this sector? Even though the medical industry can be characterized as being an extremely competitive environment.
– This competitive environment is there – right at the beginning – when the studies start.
– It continues afterwards, when students wants to specialize. They have to work night shifts on a regular basis and accept very flexible working hours.
– And to cap it all, the salary they receive for all this hard work is way below the entry-level salary in our industry.

In a nutshell, it is not an ideal working environment. Nevertheless, women are dominant in this sector. So why are women attracted to this environment? Is it because our female soft skills, caring about people, are needed more there and better appreciated?

A second observation I would like to share with you is about a situation I observed in the company I work for, NextiraOne.

We have a team of about a hundred and twenty technical engineers, and as you can imagine, it is an all-male team. However, some two years ago, a young woman joined them. You can hardly imagine how well she was treated by her male colleagues, especially when she was pregnant. All our engineers took such good care of her that it was really moving.

Still, Angélique left our company. Why?
– Was it because of the irregular working hours?
– Was it because she had to deal with infrequent but urgent calls for technical interventions at night?
– Or was it because she missed direct female colleagues to have a girl-to-girl chat with, once in a while?

These are just two examples that I wanted to share with you. The conclusion is clear – ICT is not emancipated! Basically, the question is: what will it take to emancipate the ICT industry and make this sector comparable to other industries? In other words: “What keeps women away from ICT?”

Let’s start with the first issue: what is needed to emancipate the ICT industry? Our knowledge society should not be shaped by men alone. ICT should also take full advantage of female talent, as many other high-tech industries are doing. Although many women are pursuing successful technical careers, such as in the medical sector, they do not seem to be very active in our industry. This is bad news for those women who could be creating new opportunities for the industry as well as for themselves. Indeed, the ICT industry needs capable people and also the talents that women possess.

Opening up our industry is crucial in times when employment is precious. There is strong competition for qualified employees – we are all experiencing this – and there is an increasing demand for people to fill high-level jobs. Many of these job openings may remain vacant, despite a relatively high unemployment rate. The recession has impacted the job market. Lots of businesses have had to restructure in order to withstand economic pressures. So we might have expected a greater pool of skills to be available. But the opposite is true. Recruitment of essential skills has remained a top priority in the ICT industry. Vacancies have not dropped in our sector.

So, where are the women? Let’s look at where it all starts – school. Numerous studies have shown that girls do much better than boys at school and that they have an equal interest in scientific topics. It is therefore surprising that more women are not opting to study technology with the same passion and interest as men do, once they reach graduate or master level. Basically, something else is at play here. No doubt about it – we have to review our educational system, which is not really suited to our industry.

But … there are also some positive signs. Reports from the European Commission reveal that women are showing a growing interest in the knowledge society. In Europe, there are more female students for science and engineering than ever. Their numbers are increasing by about 6% a year, while for male students the increase is about 3% a year.

But even though we can see some positive signs, our educational model does not really encourage women to enter ICT and it won’t help to close the gap. So – what else keeps women away? During job interviews, I’ve frequently witnessed differences in attitude between men and women. They look at their abilities in totally different ways. Women tend to focus on the elements of the job description where they are a bit weaker and try to talk about them. Men tend to completely forget their shortcomings and focus only on their strengths.

But besides our educational model and the differences in attitude, the main reason for women not joining the ICT sector is the lack of role models. For young women entering the IT market there is a distinct lack of role models at all levels, and as a consequence there is a lack of mentoring. That is a pity, because mentoring could increase young women’s self-esteem when it comes to technology. Men have a much higher opinion of their technological abilities than women – but their abilities are equal.

Technological know-how is the main pillar of our economy and will drive growth and prosperity. It offers opportunities to all, both men and women. But the gender imbalance in the IT industry is not self-regulating. It will need active policies and a long-term perspective to correct it. For these policies to increase women’s interest, they should change selection and recruitment methods, set up tutoring and they must break stereotypes.

If we want to do something we can start by:
– assessing why some IT companies are more successful than others in attracting women;
– we can capture best practices from other disciplines and countries;
– we can create a strategy for interventions that will increase participation of women at all company levels;
– we can set up a forum or platform where women can become mentors and tutors for young women working in ICT.

Are we ready to create such a platform? Because in my opinion it is not just about schools, which are not really encouraging girls to enter ICT. It is not just about the differences in attitude between men and women. The main reason for not having a significant representation of women in ICT is the lack of role models.

In our own interest as well as for the future growth of our industry, we have to take up this challenge. We – women – know what challenges are. When we are not busy saving the world by educating the young, taking care of the old and the sick, we do everything we can to become super moms, and meanwhile we build successful professional careers.

That probably makes us the best project managers in the world. So, let us take on this project too!!

Women in Belgium were only given voting rights in 1948 – more than sixty years ago. It took us decades – even centuries to get there. Now let’s make sure it doesn’t take decades before women achieve the same status as men in our industry.

Thank you.

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