What’s keeping women and girls away from ICT?
There is a tendency to think that women and men, girls and boys, usually choose their field of study or work based purely on their individual preferences and, thus, that any professional segregation that we can observe in the world of work is due to physiological and/or psychological differences that set genders apart. But is this true? Have you ever thought that there may exist systemic reasons that keep women and men away from professional fields that do not conform to their gender roles in society? Let’s take ICT as an example. Globally, there are several reasons identified as obstacles for the equal representation of girls and women in ICT. These, based on a widely referenced literature, are:
- Social stereotypes that make girls’ choices to pursue tech-related fields unusual or even inappropriate in some community settings
- Educators’ attitudes shaped around the stereotypical belief that girls are not as good in math and science as boys are
- The portrayal of tech-related professions as removed from everyday life and spared of any connection with people and with society, which disconnects typical female skills and values (communication, empathy, social understanding, and contribution) from this kind of professional choice
- A death of female role models in ICT professions
- The non-inclusive work environment found in most male-dominated tech-related organisations, characterized by gender and sexual harassment, sexist language and a “bro culture”
- The difficulty of work/life integration in male dominated tech-related environments, where caretaking does not usually limit employees’ availability to work
- The glass ceiling effect that prevents women in tech-related organizations in reaching positions of leadership within them
These phenomena can be observed all over Europe and the world, but they materialize in different ways and degrees in each country. For example, in Greece where Women On Top and Stimmuli, two of the FeminICT partners operate, there are some particularities which may also impact the participation of Greek girls and women in ICT. For example, the prevalence of gender stereotypes in the Greek society, and the very young age in which youth in Greece are required to choose their field of studies.
To make things worse, STEM teaching methodologies in the Greek educational system remain underdeveloped and not gender-responsive. The non-inclusive work environment of a high number of businesses in Greece is another factor that hinders women from pursuing ICT-related roles, as is the wide rural/urban divide separating different regions in this country. Last but not least, the low number of ICT teachers and successful role models in the Greek tech ecosystem make it difficult for young women and girls to imagine themselves in tech-related roles in the future.
Despite the particularities of different countries, there are definitely tools and methodologies that can be used to open new pathways for women in STEM fields and make the existing ones smoother and more welcoming for women from all over Europe. Such will be the methodology that is now being developed by the FeminICT partners -who are already looking forward to sharing their work with all their various stakeholders.