Industry calls for multi-level approach to tackle STEM gender gap

Efforts to tackle the digital gender gap must take into account the whole picture, from family life and societal attitudes to the sector, to education and careers, say industry members.[Shutterstock / greenbutterfly]

This article is part of our special report Addressing the digital gender divide.

Tackling the digital gender divide requires a threefold approach encouraging more women into STEM fields while paying equal attention to supporting them to stay and advancing their careers, according to industry members.

At the same time, companies must work to support women and combat gender inequalities more broadly. 

Dr Cristina De Luca, director of funding projects and coordination at Infineon Technologies, told EURACTIV that “we are at the end of the pipeline” and efforts must therefore consider the whole picture, including family life, societal attitudes, the sector, education, and careers.

“The pipeline is family, it’s education – schools and university – it’s industry and management of industry”, she said. “That means we have to take into consideration what the best solutions are for all these parts.” 

Digital gender gap is an issue for all of society, says industry leader

Women are underrepresented in digital sectors and the gender gap in STEM fields starts from a young age. There have been some developments when it comes to addressing this but progress has been slow and further action is needed, Sabine Herlitschka, CEO of Infineon Technologies Austria, told EURACTIV.

Perception and education

Inspiring women to pursue studies and careers in STEM must start at a young age, said De Luca, and it must come from families and educators. “The examples that they receive in their social context before school and the educational path play, in my view, a very important role”. 

Research by the European Institute for Gender Equality has shown a significant gender divide that becomes apparent during teenage years regarding digital technologies. While boys and girls in this age bracket may have relative levels of digital ability, girls report much lower levels of confidence when it comes to using it.

Ensuring that girls are supported and encouraged to pursue STEM subjects, both by their families and teachers, is, therefore, crucial, says De Luca, and requires a cultural shift in terms of how women’s participation in these fields is perceived. 

Tech figures call for greater involvement of women at all innovation stages

Greater female participation is needed at all stages of the tech product and policy development process in order to prepare for a digital future that works for all, say innovators and industry figures.

Speaking at the G20 Women’s Forum held in …

Increasing the visibility of women in technical sectors would be an excellent way to do this, Ulrike Glock, a project manager at Infineon, told EURACTIV. She added that it is vital that women in STEM are not seen as an anomaly and that girls see it as a viable career path.

“I think the only way to change the perception is to increase the visibility of the women currently working in the technical or in the ICT sector”, she said, “to produce the view that it’s completely normal that women work in such sectors.”

De Luca agrees – “there is a huge cultural gap that we have to close. This is fundamental, but this is not the only problem.”

Alongside this, she added that addressing the digital gender divide must focus in a similar way on the environments and opportunities available to women once they have embarked on STEM studies and careers. 

Multiple dimensions 

To do this, Thomas Gutt, a project manager at Infineon, told EURACTIV that attention needs to focus on three areas: increasing the number of women hired; ensuring that women have the same opportunities as men for promotion, especially to management levels; and reducing the number of women leaving STEM careers early. 

Tackling the latter two, says De Luca, requires a multifaceted approach with the introduction of measures on several of fronts. Women often “learn by doing”, she said, but it’s essential that they are not left out in the cold once working in these sectors and that, for example, female start-up founders are supported in their work. 

It’s also essential to note, she added, that women have “double work” in that they still shoulder the majority of familial responsibilities alongside their careers.

Gutt, Glock and De Luca all point to flexible working hours or childcare provision as crucial examples of enabling women to participate equally. “It is crucial to motivate careers and work-life balance in parallel”, said De Luca.

Addressing gender inequalities crucial to closing digital gaps, say Commission officials

Efforts to address the gender imbalances in the tech sector will be fruitless without action to close the gender pay gap more generally, the European Commission’s former Deputy Director-General for Communication has said. 

Public authorities can play an important role in providing these kinds of programmes and increasing engagement with addressing the gender gap, said Gutt, but action to combat the issue in the industry “should really come out of companies”. 

De Luca, however, says the EU and national authorities can play a key role, as their decisions affect the whole of the pipeline, from families to education, and action in each area is vital. 

“Gender equality doesn’t grow on trees”, she said. “It’s something for which we really have to work”, but which will bring extensive benefits “not only from an economic point of view but in terms of other aspects: we have global challenges, and we need all our strengths, for all of us to work to find solutions.”

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/ Alice Taylor]

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