Marina is a straight A student aiming to pursue a career in medicine; Molly and Lois are both passionate interior designers; and Rocio is an aspiring engineer with a desire to help build Europe’s future. What do they have in common? All four recognise the importance of technology in securing a job in the modern workplace, regardless of career choice. To improve their coding and IT skills, they recently attended an event called The Pink Cloud.
Taking place within the framework of EXPO MILANO 2015 — the latest in a long line of Universal Expositions to be held since the inaugural event in 1851 — The Pink Cloud is an initiative designed to encourage girls to investigate and potentially pursue some of the great opportunities associated with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Incorporating talks from female role models, workshops and the opportunity to network, the event attracted over 100 speakers and more than 1,900 girls over three days in May.
At the event Marina, Molly, Lois and Rocio provided their insight into what they learned, their attitude toward employment and careers, and thoughts on technology. Marina, 15 and from Greece, highlighted the importance of individuality, hard work, and the way in which technology is levelling the playing field for women:
“The event encouraged us to do something different, to stand out and show what we believe in. New technologies are helping women to do things they didn’t have the opportunity to do in past. The world is harsh these days, there’s lots of competition. You have to work hard, and be good with people. Success won’t come to you, you have to work for it.”
While technology does have the potential to level the employment playing field, the sad reality is that women are severely underrepresented in professions based on STEM skillsets. The EC estimates that only 30% of individuals presently working in the EU ICT sector are female, for example, while Garter research shows that the percentage of women occupying leadership roles has remained static at 14% for a decade.
Other attendees identified the important role that women play in motivating each other to tackle subjects that may have traditionally been viewed as masculine pursuits. Molly (19), Lois (20), and Rocio (21), all emphasised the inspirational role that successful female role models play in encouraging girls and young women to be themselves, set goals and fulfil their potential:
“It was really inspiring meeting all of the incredible, successful women. I feel really motivated to pursue my goals. Putting time into things you’re passionate about is not a waste of time, it does pay off.” Molly, UK
“We learnt to respect other women in the workplace, to invest in ourselves – it’s really important to motivate other girls, preferably from an early age, to follow their goals. We are all different and we all have potential to achieve in different ways. Invest into yourself, be happy with yourself and believe in yourself. If you’re happy with yourself good things will come of it.” Lois, UK
“These three days have been inspiring – a good opportunity to meet inspiring people. Girls inspire other girls and I hope more people have the opportunity to attend events like this. I have lots of engineers in my family – all are men but seem to really enjoy what they do so I decided I wanted to become one of them! I don’t have any one inspiration, I want to be different.” Rocio, Spain
As a result, those organisations currently striving for a more diverse workforce, particularly in ICT-related areas, would be well advised to look internally for the inspiring women they already employ. By providing them with a platform to tell their story, via events such as The Pink Cloud, they stand to motivate the next generation of female STEM specialists to both commit to an associated career path, and to consider their organisation once they enter the job market.
There is a convincing commercial rationale for achieving better balance when it comes to workforce diversity. Last year, for instance, research from Gallup found that gender-diverse business units perform significantly better financially than less diverse units. From a broader geopolitical perspective, there is a widening digital skills gap that threatens to derail ongoing economic growth. The EC predicts up to 825,000 unfilled ICT jobs by 2020 if this is not addressed – helping more women to enter the sector would go a long way to filling digital roles and strengthening the European talent pool.
There is still a lot to do when it comes to achieving gender diversity in ICT and the wider workplace, and the public and private sectors both need to play their part. By empowering more girls and young women to be independent, to help one another, and to see the benefit in pursuing STEM skills, we all stand to benefit.