Bridging gender inequality in ICT across borders

It is a fact that the gender gap in the ICT sector is something we need to bridge somehow. FEMIN-ICT’s work revolves around breaking down the barriers women encounter when entering this work field and overcoming the negative stereotypes they are usually put through. In order to stop undermining women’s rights, we all need to be aware of this global phenomenon that is taking place all across the world and start making a meaningful change. This project covers the EU region, each country is in a completely different spot and, even though Sweden can brag about being ranked 1st on the Gender Equality Index, it doesn’t mean the gender gap has narrowed down completely. 


According to the OECD, in the context of Sweden, the social welfare system is really comprehensive with supporting family-friendly workplaces because it is something really effective but, on the other hand, it is also something expensive. Swedish implements policies that offer generous paid parental leave and reduced working hours for parents with young children. These policies are coupled with high-quality childcare services and extended out-of-school-hours care at a low cost to families that pay an average parental fee for these services. Thanks to this support for parents to find a balance between work and family, the outcomes in Sweden are pretty impressive with 73% of women employed, just 3% below men. Furthermore, 97% of households with children have at least one employed person, with more than 70% of mothers working. This is attributed to comprehensive policies, such as parental leave, flexible working arrangements and affordable and high-quality childcare. 


It is a matter of fact that Sweden, Iceland and Norway provide the best overall parental leave and early childcare, while Switzerland, Greece and Cyprus offer the least. 


Despite Nordic countries being stated to have one of the most gender equal societies in the European Union, how can it be that in the ICT sector, discrimination is still an ongoing problem? According to statistics, the main problems that underlie the gender gap in the technological area include societal barriers such as pay gap, parental leave and challenges when applying to this kind of jobs, among others. It must be said that women face a lot of challenges even before entering the ICT sector as they tend to choose social career paths instead of technological ones. Due to the lack of representation and modeling of more women in the sector, it can trigger the assumption that they are not good enough or might shy out from positions. Not only do they assume that they are not good enough to develop themselves in that field, but also there is a misconception that choosing a career like nursing or fashion is not as time demanding as pursuing a career in stem careers. In this manner, they are able to take up their personal responsibilities as they are usually the ones taking care of the household and the parental workload. This is something that should be re-evaluated as it is something unpaid that also creates mental burden. 


Once they have entered the workforce, women face more challenges when it comes to applying for jobs because they don’t feel comfortable and safe by being the only female in the team. This is the reason why they usually work in isolation and are completely focused on ensuring that the work is executed in the best way, whereas men focus on networking and building relationships in order to take advantage of the opportunities given to them. 


With FEMIN-ICT, part of our objectives is to provide a unique training and support programme in order to design a parent-friendly work environment addressed to employers, business incubators, academic institutions, as well as municipalities and other government authorities. In order to know how to design these spaces, we need to be aware that the significant areas of concern we need to consider are work-life conflict, stereotyping, exhaustion, changing work schedule and career growth opportunities.  


The toolkit was created with the purpose to cover all the different areas that are needed to be deemed when creating gender responsive ecosystems, but it is completely true that, depending on the needs of each context, it is applied in a different way. It is a fact that Sweden is one of the most advanced countries in terms of gender equality thanks to the policies they have implemented and the creation of a system supporting work-life balance, but there is still a great deal of work that remains to be done in order for men and women to have the same rights. 


The representation of role models is something really important for women as if they get inspired from other people that have been previously working in the ICT sector, they can be more encouraged to pursue their goals in life, increasing their confidence, worth and abilities. Step by step, we can all build a better society full of opportunities accessible for everyone!