The Digital World: Opportunities for Women?

The digital world remains unattractive to women because of negative perceptions. It's a theme that will be at the heart of a round table discussion during the fourth Grenoble Ecole de Management Gem Digital Day to be held on December 1st. Participants will discuss the role of women in digital entrepreneurship and the digital world as a whole.


A study carried out by Syntec Numérique in France highlights that women make up 28% of the digital industry's largest union. In contrast, women account for 48% of the working population. The study underlines that women in the digital sector face the same glass ceiling as many women encounter in other fields.

In France, 34% of working women are employees and technicians, 25% are engineers, consultants or managers, and 19% hold top management positions. However, in the digital sector there are almost no women in both lower and upper level positions. Women who do work in the digital sector generally hold jobs in human resources, communications or marketing. Very few hold tech-oriented jobs or are responsible for the creation of innovative companies.

Underrepresentation begins right after high school

Education is one of the primary factors behind the lack of women in the digital world. "EMSI offers training programs for both managers and engineers. Our goal is to train versatile individuals who can manage digital projects. However, it's a real challenge for us to recruit women, and this despite the fact that companies are actively seeking to recruit equal numbers of men and women." explains Aurore Besson, vice-dean of EMSI (Ecole de Management des Systèmes d'Information).
IT and computer engineering are fields that are still seen as playgrounds for science-obsessed geeks. While the French scientific baccalaureate is awarded in equal numbers to boys and girls, science-oriented prep schools are only 30% female and engineering schools 27.8%. The scale leans even more heavily towards men in computer and IT schools where women represent no more than 10% of the student body.

An expanding digital sector full of opportunities

"We are faced with the absurd fact that there is not only a strong demand for employees in digital sectors, but the negative perceptions held by many don't actually match the realities of the digital world. The digital revolution is changing jobs in every field and the need for digital skills continues to expand. Women offer an additional perspective that will provide us with a more complete vision of current changes. " adds Aurore Besson. In line with this vision, EMSI was a partner during the last Excellencia Trophy, which aims to encourage young women to choose a path towards the digital world. Of the 10 trophy partners, EMSI was the only non-engineering school.

"We have to start providing digital role models for girls in middle school. Once students already have their baccalaureate, it's almost too late as most of them have already chosen their field of study. We have to continue sharing the experiences of female entrepreneurs so that women have the confidence to follow their aspirations in these fields." concludes Aurore Besson.

Q&A with Fabienne Billat, head of Femmes du Numérique (Digital Women) in Lyon. @fadouce

According to Syntec Numérique, only 28% of jobs in the digital sector are held by women. How do you explain this gap?

Up until the end of high school, young girls are just as successful in scientific fields. After their high school diploma this balance changes and fewer women attend engineering schools. Women make up 8 to 17% of student bodies at engineering schools, and this despite the fact that there is a 91% success rate for girls passing the scientific baccalaureate. The lack of women in these fields also translates to lower visibility for young girls and makes it harder to create initiatives that would encourage them to choose science-oriented programs.

Several factors can help us understand this gap. Technological fields are generally perceived by women as being unattractive. In addition, it can be difficult for women to feel comfortable in higher education programs where participants are 90% male. Science-related jobs are also often perceived as being more complex.

Femmes du Numérique is organizing studies to understand these factors. If we better understand what young women feel when they choose their field of study then we can better understand their reluctance to participate in scientific programs.

How can we attract more women to the digital world?

We have to work on communicating and spreading information about these fields. We can take concrete action to share experiences and accompany women who aim to work in these fields. For example, we have sponsor programs for female students and entrepreneurs.

We also work with various ministries (Education, Women's Rights, etc.) and associations. This allows us to further spread information and spearhead initiatives.

What opportunities are there for women in the digital world?

The digital sector is undergoing strong growth. It accounted for 5.5% of the French GDP in 2014. As a result, there is a wide range of job opportunities, from the production of materials to services in industries such as health, automobile, sales and video games. Digital communications, press relations, digital HR and marketing are job that are more easily accessible. They allow young women with various experiences to access jobs and sectors that are highly valued.

The digital world is particularly open to women in top management. There are two times more female leaders in the digital sector as compared to the rest of the economy. And their salaries are attractive as well. The digital sector offers many possibilities for advancement.

As with any field, it's all about finding a balance. Parity is one type of balance that improves our ecosystems. It's also up to men to welcome women into these fields. Together, we will be able to move forward!

Contacts
Aurore Besson