The fourth Thursday of April marks the International Day of Girls in ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies), an initiative promoted by the International Telecommunications Union to encourage young girls to pursue careers in these disciplines.
The gender gap in technology is a structural problem that needs to be addressed from multiple areas. The challenge does not begin when the participation rates of women in professional jobs show that they are always a minority. Quite the contrary, you need to look at when this whole matter began, when at a very early age, the distinctions between girls and boys, the stereotypes rooted in each gender identity, and the type of incentive and education they receive begin to mark paths of advantage for some, and exclusion for others.
Women face access and participation barriers at different times in their personal, training and work lives. It is not enough to arrive, to be there, to be part of that minority that achieved its goal. As for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, once a woman occupies a place within the academic or professional field, she has to overcome major obstacles linked to progress, decision-making, economic development, validation against peers and superiors and access to leadership roles. As the “Un potencial con barreras” [A potential with barriers] research title points out, the contribution that women can make in strategic areas such as Information and Communications Technologies finds limitations from an early age, when there are numerous barriers of choice that motivate girls’ lack of interest in science and technology:
- Family and social stereotypes
- Influence of family tradition on inherited and conventional careers
- Psychological, socialization and pedagogical factors that contribute to women underestimating their own abilities for STEM disciplines
- Differential education provided to men and women based on their gender
- Lack of role models
Over time, these barriers become the data that attempts to quantify gender-based inequality of opportunity. For example, in the STEM university system in Argentina, 33% of women and 67% of men are enrolled as students. Meanwhile, the total graduates of these careers amount to 35% being women and 65% being men. These indicators are a red flag when it is estimated that the skills of the future of work are closely linked to the use and creation of technology and digital literacy. There is no need for futuristic predictions to know the possibilities that women miss out on by not being part of the STEM world. In Argentina, for example, according to data from the Software Industry Chamber, there are usually 5,000 jobs left unfilled, and that number grows to 15,000 when considering the demand for IT professionals in other industries. When talking about the gender gap as a structural problem, reference is also made to the fact that it is women who are left out of these opportunities for growth, but also industries, which do not have the human potential for innovation. The countries’ economies are responsible for wasting talent in productive sectors such as the economy of knowledge, which generates exports, competition and quality employment. And it is societies that must bet on integration to achieve social well-being and inclusive development.