There’s no question about it: This is a momentous time to be working in the Internet industry. Like never before, the Corona crisis has demonstrated just how indispensable the Internet is to society. In these times, businesses are being kept alive by remote working enabled by the Internet; developments such as COVID-19 apps will play a crucial role in warding off a health and economic disaster; and digital technologies are underpinning countless advances in critical fields such as digital education, services and communications – the list goes on. The whole of society is party in an unprecedented way to this digital transformation – and none more so than those working within the Internet sector.
But is the whole of society actually well represented in the technology sector? The reality is that, in this most innovative and progressive of all industries, age-old gender stereotypes are being bedded down, contrary to good business sense. Gender equality is in the deepest economic interest of companies. From SMEs to large corporations, high levels of gender diversity are not only proven to result in higher-than-average financial returns, they also offer a serious edge over competitors through providing access to the world’s greatest untapped pool of talent.
Gender equality is in our deepest interest
Promoting women in tech is no longer a task which can be put on hold. To take just a quick glance at some figures: In 2025, the labor shortage of tech workers in Germany is forecast by an Empirica study to rise to 625,000, and to reach 520,000 in France.
At the same time, for every one woman specialist working in the Internet industry, globally there are currently three men – and in Europe, there are as many as five. Now is the time for every company to consider acting.
“But,” I hear recruiters everywhere cry, “we’d hire more women if they were applying for jobs. It’s not our fault if women aren’t interested in the tech industry.” To a certain degree, that may be true in some countries – at present. But you can help to change the status quo, and in doing so, your company can benefit from the added value diversity offers you – as well as cementing your image as a desirable employer well into the future.
So: just how should companies act?
Luckily, for any company who may in the past have wrung their hands in the belief that women are less attracted to (or less likely to be employed in!) the tech sector, there is now substantial evidence of what can work to appeal to and retain women in the industry. Where we currently stand in the area of gender diversity, what lies behind it, and the challenges that have to be tackled now: these are the questions we pose and provide concrete answers to in the eco Association’s new study, “Women in Tech Across the Globe: A Good Practice Guide for Companies”.
As the eco study finds, a company’s Number One step could be to prepare a Gender Equality Strategy. There should ideally be four policies embedded in the company’s strategy, including 1) recruitment & on-ramping of women; 2) retention of women through New Work culture; 3) supporting women to rise up the ranks; and 4) collaboration with education providers to build the pipeline of female talent.
To give life to each of these policies, we recommend a range of concrete and well-founded actions. To take just one of myriad examples from the recruitment policy: When preparing job descriptions, separating “required/essential skills” from “nice to have” skills can make all the difference, given that women are unlikely to apply for a position unless they meet 100% of the requirements, while men will apply if they meet 60% of these. As one of our member companies from the Netherlands, BIT B.V. confirms, simply changing the way they described a job has more than quadrupled their numbers of women applicants.
Some companies may already have experienced the value of some of actions that we recommend – there’s hardly a company out there, for example, who hasn’t engaged in remote and flexible working models over the past few weeks. Other actions may provide new food for thought for the future – for example, undertaking unconscious bias training, re-thinking job profiles, implementing systems of face-to-face feedback, or encouraging men to also act as role models in areas such as flexible working. Introducing such actions should be seen in the light of an investment – one that will pay off financially and in terms of innovation.
Whether you are a start-up, a small or medium-sized business, or a larger company or corporation: the eco good practice guide can help you to find and retain female talents and build your workforce diversity – and reap the rewards for doing so.
Hope for the future
While the tech world may still be largely male-dominated, the call for more female colleagues is becoming ever louder, a fact which we at the eco Association are witnessing first-hand. In our own association, we have exactly the same number of female as male colleagues – with a number of our tech experts also being women. At our subsidiary DE-CIX, the leading operator of Internet exchanges, we not only have colleagues from more than twenty different countries, but also an increasing number of female tech specialists. All in all, throughout the industry, there is a growing recognition that teams are better able to promote innovation and increase quality and performance when men and women are more evenly represented.
Ultimately, societal and economic challenges require transformative solutions. In this respect, the COVID-19 crisis has also served to provide a wake-up call concerning the importance of innovation for the public good. Looking to the future and beyond the current crisis, what is important to recognize is that for innovation to fully thrive, it requires equal inputs from all sectors of society. Gender equality is a core value for shaping a modern digital society, as highlighted in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. What is clear is that an equal input of male and female talents is required to jointly shape the new digital age – and to properly tackle any challenges that might accompany it.
The management summary of the eco study, "Women in Tech Across the Globe: A Good Practice Guide for Companies" can be downloaded here.
The complete study is available for download free of charge here.
Lucia Falkenberg is Chief People Officer with eco – Association of the Internet Industry and DE-CIX Management GmbH. Having joined eco in 2012, Lucia became Head of the eco Competence Group New Work in 2014. Prior to her role at eco, the Business Studies graduate managed her own human resources firm, where she successfully supported numerous clients in finding and retaining talented personnel. Lucia also previously worked as an international HR representative for an American IT company. Her extensive experience and know-how across the entire human resources spectrum is of particular benefit when it comes to advising executives and developing and implementing targeted personnel marketing and recruitment strategies. As a professional mother and woman working in the digital sector, Lucia benefits directly from the opportunities offered by the digital world of work.