In year 2020 PROVIDUS conducted a study to identify and analyse the main reasons why women in Latvia choose to pursue a career in the ICT sector significantly less often than men, and to offer solutions for the gradual improvement of the situation. Seven major problems were identified and proposition to minimize them were provided. So what can be done to increase women representation in IT sector? Read in the study's summary below. Link to complete study added at the end of this article.
Problem No. 1: The reasons for the low representation of women in the ICT sector already emerge in childhood. Thus long-term solutions are required to eliminate the problem. In general the public supports the career choices of girls in nature sciences/ICT, but girls are significantly less encouraged than boys to choose studies in this field. A generally stereotypical perception has emerged in society (evenly distributed across different socio-demographic groups) of ICT as a field of activity more appropriate for men.
1. The scope of the ICT sector should be explained: the sector covers a wider range of specializations than just programming.
In the interviews with educators the representatives of the sector admit that there is a lack of understanding about the professions in the ICT industry, which is mostly associated with programming. However, it covers various fields — computer graphics, web design, analysis of IT systems, knowledge about data security, IT project management, website development and administration, and many other specialisations. On the other hand, according to the results of the focus groups of the study, the most typical stereotypes are about programming being a more suitable profession for men.
2. Cooperation should be established with mass media, that prepares segmented programmes for children of different ages, which already include activities that promote nature sciences, to achieve greater involvement of girls in them
The industry should use existing entertainment programmes for children of different ages or establish new partnerships, not only to promote the different specialisations of the ICT sector, but also the suitability of it for both genders. For example, a programme for pre-school and primary school children (“Who’s here? I’m here!”) includes a section on experiments, but the experiments are led by men and the role of children is also reserved for boys. It would be important for the children and their parents to see that women or girls, as well as men or boys, fit in equally well as the leaders and participants of the experiments. The content of public campaigns or programmes was not analysed within the study, but it would be desirable to examine the possibilities of using media popular among young people to change the perceptions of the industry. A study demonstrates that girls of pre-school age/first grade are four times less likely to receive a constructor as a gift — a gift that provides the possibility to discover how various mechanisms work and promotes interest in technical sciences. This shows that stereotypes about toys suitable for boys and girls from an early age give children an idea of what the most appropriate field of activity for their gender could be.
3. Communication about the involvement of girls in ICT should be promoted
Existing communication (in mass media, advertising, video and audio) about the ICT sector usually portrays boys as industry specific. In order to promote the interest of girls in the sector, when seeing “positive role models” in the above-mentioned communication platforms, as well as by demonstrating successful female IT specialists more often, it is desirable to talk about this field more often from the girls’ perspective.
4. Special support measures should be organised for schoolgirls, so that girls can acquire equivalent ICT skills
Parents usually choose to involve boys rather than girls in ICT activities from an early age, making it more difficult for girls to integrate into a boy-dominated environment over time, as well as reinforcing the boys’ stereotypes about ICT as an unsuitable environment for girls. This problem will potentially be addressed by the new curriculum (Skola 2030), which will integrate ICT skills into the learning process from the 1st grade and make ICT education equally accessible to both girls and boys. Access to this education will not depend only on parents.
Problem No. 2: Young people (and also the general public) do not have a sufficient understanding of ICT skills and their relevance, as well as career opportunities in the ICT sector
5. Campaigns should be implemented that update and explain the demand for various skills (current ones and potential ones) in the labour market
Information from interviews and online surveys suggests that part of the young people do not consider it necessary to acquire ICT skills, as they do not plan to pursue their careers in the ICT sector. Taking into account the fact that ICT skills are demanded in almost every field and in most positions, the general public should be educated about this field in various campaigns/messages. The Covid-19 crisis provides a background to demonstrate the importance of technologies in everyday life.
Problem No. 3: The public would not recommend the ICT sector as an area for retraining. When women consider the idea of professional changes, they lack the encouragement to choose this field.
6. Convey and present the stories of positive retraining experiences
The companies should continue their initiated practice, which involves promoting success stories of women’s retraining experiences. Women working in the ICT sector are largely motivated by the dynamism of the industry, which allows one to avoid routine, and also by higher wages than in other sectors. However, the female members of the focus group, who retrained in the ICT sector, acknowledged that they felt uncertain as to whether the company would value their past experience in positions not related to ICT or whether it would be of any value. In the message to women, who are encouraged to transfer to the ICT sector, it would be worth noting that although they are newcomers to the sector, they are joining it with other knowledge and skills that are important for a technology company.
Problem No. 4: With the help of the support persons women should be encouraged to choose the ICT sector for retraining
7. With the help of the support persons women should be encouraged to choose the ICT sector for retraining
The campaigns so far have mostly focused on women and they should be continued. At the same time, it is important that women also receive encouragement from those around them, who influence their decision in favour of a career or retraining, or at least that they do not face great resistance from those around them. Thus it would be worth addressing other target groups in such public campaigns. For example, by reaching out to young people to promote them to support the interest of their sister/mother in ICT training/retraining. Or by addressing parents with the stories of other parents’ experiences — how they have supported their daughter’s choice to study in the field of ICT or motivated her to attend robotics classes in childhood.
The data obtained in the study demonstrate that stereotypes about the ICT sector as a more suitable field for men have become more and more evenly distributed in the public in various socio-demographic groups, including, for example, young people. In order for women to be more encouraged to choose this sector, it is important that the attitudes of those around them change in favour of such a choice. In the focus groups women shared their experience that in several cases parents had discouraged them from studying computer science at university, substantiating it by the fact that it is not a profession that is suitable for women.
Problem No. 5: ICT professionals do not see the benefits or the need for gender balance in the company
8. In both internal and external communication, companies should emphasise an inclusive approach and the benefits of a diverse team
The data show that overall, women value the benefits of diversity more, but in general, both the focus group results and the survey demonstrate that employees will not be the initiators of diversity measures. The understanding of employees regarding diversity is a key factor in making it easier for women to integrate into the work environment.
Problem No. 6: ICT professionals do not see the benefits or the need for gender balance in the company
9. Taking the significant gender disproportion in the ICT sector into account, it is important to implement diversity management measures aimed especially at increasing the interest of women in the careers of the sector, as well as to implement diversity policies in everyday working life. A balance must be found in the message between personal characteristics, such as gender, background and professional skills, not to form a misconception that professional abilities are less important than gender
The results of the focus groups demonstrated that women are concerned about the various activities aimed at the representation of women in the ICT sector, as they inevitably emphasise gender, but this gives women a contradictory feeling that their professional abilities are thus less important. These fears can have unintended consequences, for example, the impression that women do not support the company policy of increasing the representation of women among the employees.
Problem No. 7: The society in general associates the ICT sector as difficult to be combined with family life.
10. To create such an image of the ICT sector, that the majority of the Latvian society would consider work in this sector to be not only well-paid and prospective, but also one that can be successfully combined with private life, family and hobbies
The data demonstrate that the public is more likely to recommend this sector to girls, if people are convinced that it can be successfully combined with family life. This aspect is also very important regarding the recommendation for women aged 35–45 to choose this field for retraining. In the public’s perception this sector is not associated with one that can be combined well with family life, but employees in focus groups point to the exact opposite — they emphasise that work in this sector can be combined even better with family life. Thus the companies have the opportunity to use the employee evaluation process to change the public perception and to convince them that work in the ICT sector can be successfully combined with family life.
To learn more about what can be done in order to increase women participation in the IT sector, read the complete study “Representation of women in the ICT sector in Latvia: public perception and workplace adaptation to gender equality“. The study was conducted by the order of the foundation “IT Education Fund” and Accenture Latvia.