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2 minutes to read Posted on Friday March 29, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Emily D’Alterio

Emily D’Alterio

Former Editorial & PR Officer , Europeana Foundation

Women in culture and tech: Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society

On 18 January, Europeana, in collaboration with Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, opened the digital exhibition Pioneers in order to highlight the lives and achievements of historical European women. Now that Women’s History Month is coming to a close, we’re excited to hear from Commissioner Gabriel once more, as she shares her vision for women in today’s digital world.

main image
Initiation? ceremony, Magdalenian. Nine partially clothed women and one young man.
Wellcome Collection
United Kingdom

On women in digital...

Our economy and society as a whole are impacted in depth by the digital transformation. Our mission, as policymakers, is to accompany this transition, so that it benefits all citizens, men and women alike.

Women are underrepresented in the European digital sector. In fact, only 17% of the labour force in the digital and tech sectors is female.

This is a challenge to tackle, not only because women are not benefiting from the opportunities brought by the digitisation of our economy and society, but also because the ICT sector is deprived of their talents.

In this sense, it is for me crucial that we take action to reverse the negative trends.

First, as I see it, we must aim to construct an inclusive digital Europe; it is a matter of principles and values. As you know, the European Union has been built on a solid foundation of values and principles that we hold very much dear. One of those values is equality between men and women. Thus, as Europeans, we must make sure that the digital Europe we are constructing respects and defends our values.

This is what I call the human-centric approach to the digital transformation that puts citizens at the centre of our policies, our measures and our actions.

Secondly, in order to see results, I firmly believe that we need to engage and mobilise at all levels: European level, Member States, the private sector, universities, schools, parents, women and men. We need to engage in partnerships and permanent dialogue that will produce best-practices for sharing and efficient measures to overcome the digital divide between men and women.

Thus, we must equally create an impact in the short, medium and long term. I have applied this to the Women in Digital strategy launched in 2018. In it, you will see that we have tried to make a difference now, as much as to pave the way for future actions and future challenges.

For instance, since increasing the number of women in the digital and tech sectors also increases the promotion of role models and the visibility of female experts and their contributions, I launched the No Women No Panel European Campaign. Through it, I have committed to only attend public events where women are fairly and equally represented. Interestingly, when we explain to the organisers why I decline the invitation, only a few hours later, we receive a new programme with many more women experts. This immediate action means that female experts become visible, their points of view are heard and they become references in their field. Further, they become examples of the possible career paths for new generations to come.

On the more medium and long-term horizons, I have engaged in open, transparent and pragmatic dialogues with national Ministers and CEOs from the largest tech, digital, telecom and audiovisual companies. For example, through our recent Digital4Her initiative, tech CEOs have committed to improving the situations of their female employees, and also women in the sector in general. They have affirmed this commitment by signing the Digital4Her Declaration, which promotes innovation by creating an inclusive business ecosystem. (You can sign the declaration here). A similar declaration will be signed by the Member States at the Digital Day 3 on 9 April 2019.

As you see, what we need to improve women’s participation and representation in the digital sector is the courage of our conviction and determination.

On female leadership...

Diversity in leadership positions should reflect the diversity of our societies. It is not only out of equality concerns, but also (and more importantly) with a view to delivering the best choices for their respective organisations that leaders ought to be diverse.

In the case of digital, studies have shown that tech companies built or run by women are more capital efficient, with higher revenues, and more likely to survive. So it seems that there is a clear case for women in digital! The industry needs their talent, and our economy needs their innovation.

Having said that, still today we are confronted with the gap between men and women accessing management and senior management positions. Indeed, when talking about female digital leadership, we realise that the inequality is almost twice that found in the general labour force.

The 2019 report on equality between women and men in the European Union shows that the percentage of women on European boards has risen from 11.9% in 2010 to 26.7% in 2018. There is progress, but it is too slow. This is even more relevant to the digital sector. Indeed, the IT sector shows the third-highest increase in female board members, 102% in 2018 but it is also the sector with the highest percentage of all-male boards, 18.2%. Also, the Telecommunications Services sector shows the highest percentage of women on boards, 27.1%, which represents a 46% increase between 2011 and 2018. This is also the only sector where all companies have at least one woman on their boards.

Thus, what data trends suggest is that inequality between men and women in leadership positions in the digital sphere is essentially a result of the persistence of strong unconscious biases about what is appropriate and the potential and contribution of women. Therefore, to address this situation, cultural change and initiatives at micro and macro levels can help develop female digital entrepreneurship.

On the Women in Digital strategy…

The key features of the Women in Digital strategy concentrate on three objectives. First, to put women’s talents and contributions in the digital sector at the top of the European and national political agendas. Second, to promote digital skills and competencies among girls and women. And third, to encourage and support girls and women in their pursuit of digital careers and entrepreneurship.

Thus, in order to improve the situation of women in the digital sector, the first imperative is to fight stereotypes, something we can only do through the visibility of women in the digital sector.

Indeed, I firmly believe in the approach ‘if you can see it, you can be it’. We need to promote role models and pioneer women. We need to show our girls that women before them have paved the way for them to thrive.

Earlier I explained the No women No Panel campaign, but there are many other initiatives that contribute to this objective. For example, the online exhibition I launched with Europeana on Pioneering women in the arts and sciences. I have also supported the Women4Cyber programme as a patron. The programme aims to promote women experts and support them in their careers in the cyber security sector. Further, I have engaged with the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) and asked them to produce a report on the sexist stereotypes and images existing in the European audiovisual sector. In the coming weeks, I will be taking stock of the report’s findings and analysing the best practices applied in each Member State in order to make recommendations of solutions that bring change.

We have also gathered data through the Women in Digital Scoreboard that will be published together with the Digital Economy and Society Index in June 2019. With this data, Member States will be able to track progress and see where the problems remain in order to facilitate political and legislative actions.

Concerning the second objective of the Women in Digital strategy, we have a number of initiatives in place to stimulate girls and women to take up STEM and digital studies and careers. Initiatives include EUCode week, Digital Opportunity scheme, Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, to name some prominent examples.

There are a few months left in the present mandate and I am more motivated than ever to move forward quickly. However, I know I will not make it alone. That is why teaming up with partners, both public and private, is a sine qua non condition for success. I earlier mentioned the 26 signatory CEOs of the Digital4Her Declaration and of the actions with national ministers. However, we need to go further. We need to engage with the European Parliament and National Parliaments to raise awareness and call for action. We need to bring on board universities and educational institutions to analyse the best ways in which to take our education systems into the 21st century and ensure they promote digital skills among girls.

We believe in dialogue and pragmatism and we are certain that in order to create a truly inclusive Digital Europe, all stakeholders need to actively participate in bringing more equality to the sector.

We must work in education, career choices and company policies to support women’s work life and the promotion of female digital leadership.

A message to European women…

Today, our modern societies face challenges, and we need empowered citizens to overcome them more than ever. Women shall step in to embrace the new roles, where they can add value, make a positive difference, and help the society move forward. The cultural, tech, digital and audiovisual sectors hold a special responsibility. Audiovisual professionals are developing stories that create dreams, aspirations, and shape our societies beyond national borders. Likewise, the cultural sector is the barometer for our common values; it tells us about societies and how they are formed. Culture and digital have the power to shed light on role models, whether real or even fictional, likely to inspire our fellow citizens and more specifically women, to embrace new roles.

In this same sense, we need to be clear on one thing, which is probably my main message to European women: digital is not a sector. Digital is not a thing. Digital is everything.

With that in our minds, we need women to integrate digital and be the change and progress forces. Women need to engage in being the actors and makers of the inclusive Digital Europe we dream of constructing.

Yes, I believe in women’s talent and leadership. Together, we can achieve a European digital future where women and men can equally thrive.

Did this interview profile inspire you? Leave you with something to say? Share your thoughts in a sector-wide Twitter chat: 15.00 CET following #womeninculturechat.