Embracing equality in a digital era

Unless urgent action is taken women will become victims of digital discrimination, a recent event heard. Martin Banks reports.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Apr 2021

Closing the gender gap and preventing “digital discrimination” was the keynote message to emerge from an event to mark this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

The event, held online and in person and organised by tech giant Huawei, saw participants discuss gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the digital technology sector and society as a whole.

The debate, “Women in the Digital Era: Unleashing the Potential of Female Talent for a Stronger Europe”, involved MEPs, representatives from European agencies and industry associations and focused on ways of getting more women into leadership roles in the digital and wider economy.

The aim is to empower women to “unleash” their talent and fully contribute to and benefit from the digital transformation process. But this remains some way off as relatively few women are participating in information and communications technology (ICT).

Speaking via video link from Portugal, Maria da Graça Carvalho, Parliament’s rapporteur on “Closing the Digital Gender Gap”, spoke about how best to close this gap.

She said, “The issue of women and digital technology has gained a new dimension in recent months due to the health crisis, which is affecting our daily lives, particularly for women.”

“What we need to do is to ensure that we remove the obstacles that still exist for women being involved in the digital economy. This is crucial because there is a real threat of this becoming a new type of discrimination [against women].”

“We have to look at the causes as to why women are not present in the digital economy.  This is important because it is vital that women and girls are not excluded. This is a question of human rights”

Maria da Graça Carvalho (PO, EPP)

“Currently, we are not seeing an improvement in the gender situation, certainly when you look at the number of students studying in this area where females remain in the minority compared with males. This is very worrying.”

In a keynote speech, she said, “It is estimated that some 90 percent of jobs in the future will require a digital competence, but fewer and fewer girls are choosing ICT as a career.”

She added, “We have to look at the causes as to why women are not present in the digital economy.  This is important because it is vital that women and girls are not excluded. This is a question of human rights and also a question of fairness. We must not have a digital discrimination developing so we need to act now.”

Another speaker, Ibán García del Blanco, S&D coordinator on the AIDA special committee and deputy chair of the JURI committee, said, “It is not easy to say how this problem can be solved but it is a question of attitude: men must become ‘feminists’ too – this is a key message.”

“This is a question of justice and also a necessity because we are losing a lot of the great potential that women offer in this domain. This will be good for the economy as well as for equality.”

Agnieszka Stasiakowska, senior business acceleration manager at the European Commission’s executive agency for SMEs, said, “There is a gender gap and, when it comes to barriers to women entering ICT, the perception, which still persists, is that women are less flexible.”

“This is where the role of men is so important in sharing responsibilities. They can help women become great leaders but, yes, we certainly do need more women on the governing boards of companies and in science and academia.”

“Many of the skills needed to work in cyber are naturally embedded in the DNA of women … We have a growing number of women in cybersecurity and I’m also experiencing it in Huawei” Sophie Batas, Huawei Director for Cyber Security and Data Privacy in Europe

Another speaker, Branwen Miles, a policy advisor at COPA/COGECA, the European association of farmers and agri-cooperatives, said, “There’s still untapped potential that women farmers have which we need to support. Women are the backbone of society and have a multi-functional role. They combine their work with being mothers and, during this pandemic, have also become educators for their children.”

“It is important, therefore, that we provide women with the toolbox and support adapted to their needs.”

Another panel heard from Nina Hasratyan, policy manager at the European Cyber Security Organisation (ECSO), who said that only 11 percent of the cybersecurity workforce in the world are women, adding, “it’s only 7 percent in Europe - very disappointing results. We need to step up a lot.”

Asked her advice for young women thinking of cyber as a career, Iva Tasheva, co-founder and cybersecurity management lead at CyEn, said, “I would say: get as much experience as possible and don’t be humiliated. Once you have this know how you can quickly grasp the issue. My message to women is: come to the cyber sector because we need you.”

Sophie Batas, Huawei’s director for cyber security and data privacy in Europe, told the meeting, “Many of the skills needed to work in cyber are naturally embedded in the DNA of women. Cybersecurity is a very multi-disciplinary sector. It requires various types of profiles and very specific skills, including caring for people, being able to communicate in a precise way, negotiation skills, a broad understanding of the situation and an ability to react quickly.”

“We have a growing number of women in cybersecurity and I’m also experiencing it in Huawei.”

Philip Herd, Huawei’s EU Communications Director, noted, “It’s a supporting role that men can play. It may be simple things such as making the workplace more inclusive, less threatening or making the work-life balance better.”

“Men are part of this conversation but it is a fact that in most big companies it is still men who make the decisions. If men are not championing women’s causes then women are not being heard.”

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