Decreasing the scientific and technological gender gap: now it is time to act!

8 March 2011

The first joint high level conference on ‘Women in science, innovation and technology in the digital age’ was organised in Budapest. The initiative came from the Hungarian Presidency and the Directorate-General Information Society and Media (INFSO) within the scope of the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day. The setting of the conference was both  frustrating and optimistic at the same time. It was frustrating, because after twenty years of mainstreaming, women in Europe are still not as actively participating within the scientific and technologic labour market as their mail counterparts.  And optimistic, because multiple important stakeholders are of  the opinion that now is the time to do something about this negative situation in which women find themselves. The conference was seen as the first step in the right direction. The three main gender gaps which were discussed during this conference were:

  •     female participation in the science and technology gap;
  •     the female leadership gap;
  •     the payment gap.

Keynote speeches

The first day of the conference started with speeches of high-level keynote speakers. European commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, delivered the opening speech. She spoke about early childhood causes which possibly lead to the current situation of women being underrepresented in scientific en technological careers. “My own opinion is that we need to tackle the problem early and from many angles. Girls need to know that science and computing matters, so they do not cut off their options too early.” Another introductive speech was given by the secretary of state at the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education Maria Elzbieta Orlowska. According to Orlowska, all member states need to have at least 30% of women in science and technology. “The European institutions should give the right example for businesses. That is why policy making needs to be changed: it has to be focused on excellence, not on different treatment between the genders.” In addition, the first female president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, gave a short video presentation about the negative consequences of gender discrepancy in the scientific and technological field. “There is a need for a concrete action plan. Attracting women in science and technology is of great importance for the European innovation strategy.”Finally Elizabeth Pollitzer, director of Portia Ltd., gave a short presentation about the First European Gender Summit which will be organised in November 2011. 

Parallel sessions

Adjacent to the introduction, the conference continued with the afternoon parallel sessions which were directed by different competent panel members. In total, four sessions were organised with different perspectives ,such as the educational perspective, the research and innovation perspective, the entrepreneurship perspective and the workforce perspective. The audience could choose to participate in two of the four sessions. During these sessions there were multiple stakeholders present who were ready for a stiff debate on the different subjects. A final parallel session on the leadership and media perspective was convened on the second day of the conference, which the full audience could join. Right after this last session there was a possibility to ask questions to the panel members about all five the parallel sessions and to have these questions discussed during the wrap up session. 

Gender action plan

The goal of the parallel sessions was to come to a strong list of recommendations that  covers all perspectives of the gender issue in science and technology. This list is converted into a position paper composed by the European Centre for Women and Technology (ECWT). Until the 8th of April 2011 one can comment on this position paper. All relevant comments received during the consultation period will be presented at the hearing of the European Parliament (EP) on the 5th of May 2011. The adapted position paper will be used as an instrument to introduce a Gender Action Plan for the Digital Agenda 2011-2015. The ECWT hopes that the European Commission (EC) will issue a special communication on gender equality at the first Digital Agenda Assembly on the 16th and 17th of June 2011.

The first recommendations were discussed per perspective during the wrap up session. 

- The educational perspective:

  •     create a curriculum reform which includes ICT and beta courses more intensively;
  •     train the trainer to obtain more female interest in ICT and beta courses;
  •     use female teachers in ICT and beta courses as role models to attract more girls in these educational fields;
  •     monitor institutional behaviour more intensively;
  •     develop mandatory Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for universities to improve the percentage of women in higher scientific careers such as senior teachers or professors.

 - The research and innovation perspective:·       

  •     implement KPIs in the industry for equal salary and equal opportunities;   
  •     set quota’s for female researchers in ICT;     
  •     make sure women in research and innovation are retained after career interruptions;       
  •     establish a European observatory for best practices in which member states can share ideas about successful policies to attract more women in scientific and technologic careers.

 - The entrepreneurship and workforce perspective:

  •     implement a mentoring system via role models;
  •     set up a targeted program for businesses.

 - The leadership and media perspective:

  •     make intensive use of social media;
  •     make use of female role models in popular television series by showing women who have success in scientific or technological careers;
  •     use governmental power by purchasing only from companies which have over 50% of women employed.

There is a long way to go before Europe reaches its wonderful world of gender equality within the scientific and technological field. But before that day will come, the Gender Action Plan for the Digital Agenda should be fully implemented by 2015, which means that by that time hopefully a common European practice on gender equality in development is reached through greater policy coherence and coordination between European institutions and member states. The progress made will have to be monitored constantly. Therefore the idea of arranging a next high level conference on women in science and technology is already a fact and the plan is to organise this conference on the 8th of March 2012 in Norway. See you there!

by Roxanne van Mieghem and Charlotte Geerdink

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