It is now since 2011 that every year on the fourth Thursday of April we celebrate the International Day of Girls in ICT (Information and Communication Technology), a day established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency specialising in information and communication technologies. The main objective of Girls in ITC is to nurture the digital skills of young women and girls and promote career opportunities in the STEM field and in particular ICT.
The theme changes every year, in 2021 it was "Connected Girls, Creating Brighter Futures", this year it is "Access and Safety".
According to the latest ITU figures, the percentage of women using the Internet globally is 48% compared to 55% for men. So if women are unable to access the Internet and do not feel safe online, then they will not be able to develop the digital skills to pursue a career in the ICT sector. Theme 2022 therefore seeks to encourage discussions and events aimed at overcoming those barriers around access and safety so that girls can truly aspire to pursue digital and scientific studies and careers.
Although science, technology and innovation are key factors in our society, less than 30% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematic) professionals are women. In particular, it is in ICT disciplines that the gender gap is highest compared to the average for other scientific disciplines.
According to a study conducted on the 2020/2021 academic year by Unindustria in collaboration with the Talents Venture Observatory in the context of the Stem in Action project in Italy and the Lazio Region, women enrolled in an ICT degree course account for only 1.1% of total enrolment in STEM courses. While the presence of women is quite strong in the area of natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, the representation in the ICT area is only 14 %. Yet the employment rate of ICT graduates one year after graduation is around 93% and salaries are on average very high. So why is the presence of girls still so low?
One might think that it is social and family prejudices that hinder the role of women in technical and scientific sectors, but also "The labour market has a strong influence on women's choices and training paths to their disadvantage". The gender gap in ICT, for example, concerns both the employment rate and pay, the latter being on average 10.6% lower than that of men.
If we look at career prospects in academia, for example, despite the fact that data from the European Commission's She Figures report show that the percentages of female doctoral candidates working in the fields of education and care are still the highest compared to other disciplines, the number of female doctoral candidates in Europe increased between 2015 and 2018, with an average growth rate of 0.4%.
The number of female doctoral students in STEM areas has also increased, especially in the life sciences, this is due to increased investment in science and technology fields which has resulted in an increase in research grants and doctoral positions in STEM subjects, thus also increasing the number of women pursuing academic careers compared to other fields.
However, very few women continue to do research and reach stable employment positions, 6.1% compared to 8.6% of men. This is not because women are uninterested, unskilled or less good than men in scientific subjects, but because they feel obliged to make choices that allow them to reconcile family and work. They are therefore less inclined to accept job instability, insecurity, and working hours that cannot be reconciled with maternity, family and care work, and tend instead to prefer 'safer' jobs, even if they pay less.
According to a recent Almalaurea report, "Laureate e Laureati: scelte, esperienze e realizzazioni personali" (Graduates and women: choices, experiences and personal achievements), for women the prospects of job stability and the possibility of reconciling work with private and family life are very important, while men prefer career and earnings. These points are linked to the fact that women are more likely to be employed in the public sector and that future job prospects affect their choice of university. The labour market therefore plays an important role in shaping women's choices.
In the private sector, the situation is even more striking. Even in the face of very high salaries, women tend to prefer jobs with lower salaries, but more in line with personal and family choices. OECD and Ministry of Education data for the year 2019/2020 confirm that most women prefer public employment over work in the private sectors. Public has become synonymous with stable, especially when it comes to schools and training. OECD data show that in pre-school education, female teachers account for 97% of the total, and according to Ministry of Education data for the academic year 2020/2021, the female share of permanent teachers is 82.9%.
While for many humanities graduates the possibility of teaching is clear from the beginning of their studies, for female STEM graduates the teaching job is often a compulsory choice where other types of careers are not sustainable, especially in the absence of public services that allow them to reconcile family and work and to actually make free choices about their careers.
Days such as the one for girls in ICT are important to combat prejudice and encourage young women to embark on this type of career, but they have little impact if they merely encourage without coming to terms with a reality that does not allow them to make choices in line with their own desires, needs and personal inclinations.