Gabriel: Women ‘continue to face obstacles’ in tech sector

EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Mariya Gabriel. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

This article is part of our special report A Man’s world: Challenging gender stereotypes in the tech sector.

Tech firms in Europe are ‘losing out’ on a wide range of talent and diversity due to their reluctance to hire women across all levels of management, the EU Commissioner for Innovation and Research, Mariya Gabriel has said.

Speaking at an online event entitled Equality in Business Leadership in the Digital Sector on Wednesday (13 May), Gabriel noted how this loss also affects the potential of European businesses to remain competitive on the global stage.

“Women in Europe are continuing to face obstacles,” Gabriel said at the event, which was hosted by technology trade association Digital Europe. “And Europe is not only losing our talent and our diversity, women-led companies are in better positions to understand female customers, who influence 85% of consumer decisions globally.”

Specifically, Gabriel noted how Europe should look to “intervene” in the period between secondary school and university, where she believes many young women are diverging from the path of gaining skills that equip them for life in Europe’s digital sector, and that even if they do gain a foothold in the industry, they are held back from charting out a clear career path.

“The growth of women in tech careers is being held back,” she said. “More than 5% of women over 35 in the tech sector remain in junior level positions.”

As a result of this, Gabriel poured cold water over the notion that the Commission should come out with further frameworks as a means of fostering female empowerment in the tech sector, but instead adopt a more practical approach to the issue.

“Let’s not talk about huge strategies or declarations, let’s find out about the concrete ways to help women.”

Earlier in March this year, the European Commission adopted its Gender Equality Strategy.

The more specific challenges outlined in the strategy include putting an end to gender-based violence; closing gender gaps in the labour market; addressing gender pay gaps; and achieving gender balance in decision-making and in politics – an area which came into play as part of the composition of the most gender-balanced college of Commissioners in history.

One particular area that the executive will look to legislate on is proposing binding pay transparency measures by the end of 2020.

Elsewhere, Gabriel cited several EU-led initiatives aimed at fostering female empowerment in the tech sector.

The executive’s Digital strategy published earlier this year highlights the priority of ensuring women have more ‘rewarding careers’ in the tech sector, and that the industry should actively and fairly ensure that women are able to participate in the bloc’s digital transition.

“More women can and must have rewarding careers in tech, and European tech needs to benefit from women’s skills and competences,” the strategy states. “The digital transition must be fair and just and encourage women to fully take part.”

Moreover, Gabriel also cited the EU Prize for Women Innovators, an award that recognises women working on inventive solutions to modern problems.

Life stories

More broadly, the event featured a cross-section of female leaders who shared some personal anecdotes on their trials and tribulations in making their way to the top.

Elisa Garcia Diaz, Head of R&T Cooperations at Airbus, reflected on the structural ‘unconscious bias’ against young women that was evident early in her career, while Maria Nikkila, Head of Digitalisation Unit at  Finland’s Ministry of Finance, also placed responsibility at the hands of women themselves, who may feel discouraged by the lack of prospects for job progression in their career.

“Women are not aiming high unless they want to become really successful,” she said.

In more a more personal anecdote, meanwhile, Hilary Mine, VP & Market Unit Leader Nordics, Baltics & Benelux at Nokia, noted how the social and economic challenges of her early life primed her well for an ambitious future, which eventually led her to embark on enterprising projects in her academic and professional career, including digitising her college newspaper at a time in which the online news industry was a platform reserved only for the largest of mass-media outlets.

A creative and bold spirit early on in life and the importance for both young men and women to take risks, is something that Marianne Dahl Steensen, Vice President at Microsoft, Western Europe, also noted the importance of.

“Early on, you need to fail,” she said. “When you are on the other side you become braver and so much better at your job. Make failures in the beginning of your career and learn from them.”

For her part, Director-General DIGITALEUROPE, Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, attempted to make the business case for having women employed in management-level roles.

“The higher you get the less women there are,” she said. “It’s even a good business case to have a diverse management team. It’s a shame not to use all the talents we have.”

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]


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