Věra Jourová is the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality since 2014. She shares her message on gender equality in digital spaces today on International Women’s Day.
I am delighted to talk to you today on International Women’s Day. This is a day to celebrate women’s achievements in many fields of life. For me, as EU Commissioner for Gender Equality, it is also a day to remember that we are far from equality between women and men.
One area where I’m sure you’ll agree there is still a large gender imbalance is in the digital field.
The digital opportunity
The sad reality is that women make up less than one in five ICT graduates in the EU, and this figure is only declining. Even our youngsters are not embracing opportunities. I find this depressing– it is not that women are incompetent or uninterested! On the contrary, we know that there are no major differences between the basic digital skills of young men and women.
We must ask ourselves what is shaping choices of girls from an early age? We found that only 16% of the almost 8 million people working in ICT are women. To make things worse, there is a high drop-out rate of women from digital jobs, which results in an annual productivity loss of around 16 billion euros in the EU.
However, for the women that do work in this sector, the digital sector is indeed a rather equal workplace. For example, research shows that, in the tech sector, men and women who share the same non-managerial jobs and similar backgrounds tend to earn the same. But, we must not forget that the hierarchical structures are still very much dominated by men, with women representing only a tiny portion of the tech industry’s top leadership.
All hands on board for gender equality
Empowering women in digital spaces goes hand in hand with gender equality and empowering women more broadly. With an average score of 66.2 out of 100 on the Gender Equality Index, the EU is still a long way off from reaching a gender-equal society. We need concrete actions and this is why, throughout my mandate, I have launched several initiatives which can bring real improvements.
A very important issue we are trying to tackle is equal access to economic resources. It is not just a matter of women’s economic independence. It is a prerequisite for the achievement of economic growth, prosperity and competitiveness. Progress has been slowing: in fact, the employment gap and pay gap have remained pretty similar in recent years. The persistence of these gaps led us to take action. We realised without action we would be stuck with progress at a snail’s pace!
In November 2017, we announced a concrete response to put an end to the gender pay gap through an Action Plan to be delivered until the end of this mandate, in 2019.
In April 2017, we announced the EU Social Pillar to give equal opportunities to men and women in the working place, specifically through the work-life balance proposal. With these new rules, we would be giving equal weighting to leave provisions for mothers and fathers alike. We want to offer people choice so they have opportunities to chase their dreams and arrange their lives how they see fit.
We are also working to improve the gender balance in companies at all management levels and encourage governments and social partners to adopt concrete measures to improve gender balance in decision-making.
And when it comes to digital, one of our top priorities is to tackle the lack of skilled ICT professionals. The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, launched in December 2017, brings together stakeholders who take action in order to tackle the digital skills gap in Europe. In one year, members of the Coalition have provided several million training courses on digital, both online and face to face, to Europeans and now they are running through 18 National Coalitions.
In 2017, we also launched the Digital Opportunity Traineeship. This is pilot project that will provide around 6,000 students with experience in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, programming and big data in the period 2018-2020. This is of course is directed equally and women and men.
As you can see, many of the initiatives go beyond legislative action and they are a proof of the multi-stakeholder approach, which the EU has firmly embraced.
So, today, I call you, as company and business representatives, to action. You have a key role in helping people to upskill and foster their careers, by offering equal opportunities to men and women in the workplace. Only with joint efforts will we make Digital a women’s world too. I am committed to defend equal rights and opportunities on the labour market for men and women and I am counting on your support!
I wish you all a Happy Women’s Day!