By Adrianna Zammit, Country Manager of Microsoft Malta and Cyprus
With less than one third of women comprising the ICT workforce in Europe, it’s an understatement to say that women are underrepresented in the industry. Furthermore, from those women who do pursue careers in technology there are very few in leadership positions – in fact, only 19.2 percent of ICT sector workers have women bosses, compared to 45.2 percent of non-technology employees (European Commission, 2013).
The underlying question is: what is preventing women from entering into, and cultivating careers, in technology? Culturally, there are gender stereotypes and a misconception about the role of women in certain careers, and the idea that boys have greater natural aptitude for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields persists. Yet, despite an increasing number of girls choosing to study STEM subjects in higher education, many lack the encouragement from teachers, family and friends to stay with it throughout their educations.
Diversity balance can only be achieved by boosting the uptake of STEM subjects among young women, and by providing them first-hand insight into what working in the technology industry is all about. Microsoft’s DigiGirlz program does just this – providing talented females students an opportunity to meet women in the ICT field and hear about their experiences and the barriers they’ve encountered as females who show passion and talent for STEM fields of study. As a DigiGirlz evangelist, I’ve seen the excitement in their eyes when they realize that, yes, they can do it, and that there’s an amazing world of opportunity that’s waiting for them.
After all, there are hugely compelling reasons for women to consider a career in technology: because these skills are so in-demand, salaries are higher than they are in other sectors. In fact, there are expected 900,000 vacancies for ICT specialists by 2015 in the EU (European Commission, 2013). And women in the ICT industry currently earn almost nine percent more than those in other professions. However, it’s not only salaries that are attractive, but many employers in the space are staunch supporters of flexible work. I am proud of Microsoft’s flexible working culture that recognises the importance of family life.
Further, there’s always the opportunity to be your own boss. More than any other sector, technology is the land of start-ups. One person with a good idea today can start a viable business tomorrow. At Microsoft, we have been encouraging female entrepreneurship through the BizSpark program, an initiative to support young start-ups with technology tools. In Russia, we worked with Inga Nakhmanson, an entrepreneur who coupled her interests in fashion and sci-fi to bring a virtual wardrobe to life by starting Fitting Reality. Since the company was founded in 2011, it now employs 14 full-time employees and is growing in key markets including China, India, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Since I began my career as an engineer, the rate of innovation in the technology sector has only accelerated. Technology has dramatically transformed the way we work, live and play – and it is genuinely exciting to be part of this very visible transformation.
Aside from offering tremendous opportunity for women, it’s just as important for the tech industry to ensure a robust pipeline of talent. As the impact of technological innovation continues to grow internationally, it’s vital that tech companies are comprised of diverse workforces, attuned to the different needs and priorities of all of those whom we serve. Certainly, the cultivation of diversity requires a top down approach, and Don Grantham, our Microsoft President for the region, is a great mentor and an advocate for diversity and innovation.
Coinciding with International Women’s Day, we wanted to share some insights from two of our female country managers, who share some of their personal experiences forging successful careers in IT. If you have a girl in your life who is interested in STEM subjects, please do share these videos – we hope they inspire the next generation of women in tech!
Happy International Women’s Day!
Watch the interview with Peggy Antonakou, Microsoft Country Manager, Greece
Watch the interview with Biljana Weber, Microsoft Country Manager Czech Republic