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ICT is still a very male dominated industry – how RIPE are helping the gender balance

Article by Mirjam Kühne, RIPE Chair

ICT is still a very male dominated industry, including the part that deals with the underlying technical Internet infrastructure. Having studied Computer Science in the 80s and early 90s, I am used to this environment, and I was often the only woman in the room.

However, I felt that the technical Internet community was different from other, more established ICT industries in the way that it was a relatively young field, and people were passionate, open, honest, and very informal. That’s one reason I have always enjoyed being part of the RIPE community, which is a group of people who make sure the Internet infrastructure continues to work and grow in Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.

Now, 30 years later, the community is ageing, and we need to make sure we attract the next generation of network engineers so that the enormous amount of expertise that lives in this community doesn’t get lost. I am concerned that network engineering as a career is not very popular among young people today and that there is still a lack of women coming into the field. Since a lot of network operation is automated these days, knowledge about hands-on network engineering is dwindling and maybe not promoted well enough in universities. Especially during the pandemic, it has become apparent just how important a functioning Internet is – and it’s the knowledge and expertise of the network operators who collaborate in forums such as RIPE who make this happen.

The COVID pandemic has made the situation worse due to the fact it was harder for newcomers, including women, to enter the community and actively participate. In May 2022, the RIPE community will have its first onsite meeting for more than two years. This is also an opportunity to attract young, new talent. We are working together with universities to set up several events especially for students, both in person and online – one of which is an online session in May which will look at the topic ‘Who controls the Internet or Network Engineering as a Career’, which all students are welcome to join.

During the RIPE 84 meeting in Berlin, we will also continue our Women in Tech series, this time focusing on the Gender Data Gap. We will be highlighting sex-disaggregated data and what it can tell us about the gender gap in ICT, and there will be a keynote speech, interview, and workshop. We also have a RIPE Diversity Task Force who meets to work on actions aimed at increasing diversity at RIPE Meetings, and we continue to provide on-site childcare to make it easier for parents to attend.

We will also use the RIPE Meeting to further promote our new RIPE Code of Conduct and recruit members for the Code of Conduct Team. If we want to increase diversity and be inclusive to everybody, we need to make sure we provide a safe environment – and having the right reporting processes in place and people you can approach in case you feel something is wrong is an important part of that.

The RIPE community and RIPE Meetings are open to everybody and always have been. I am proud to see many influential women active in the RIPE community and in leadership positions, including my role as the first female RIPE Chair. Having these role models helps to attract others to step up. At RIPE, we aim to foster diverse and inclusive RIPE Meetings where all attendees feel welcome to participate fully, and we take steps to increase our diversity further through these initiatives.

The online student session is being held on 3 May 17:00 – 18:30 (UTC+2). Speakers: Bert Hubert, Franziska Lichtblau (PC Chair) and the topic will be ‘Who controls the Internet or Network Engineering as a Career’, more information will be available nearer the time at:

Women in IT

Why is there a shortage of women in IT?

women in IT
Image via Pixabay
Its 2017 and Britain has recently celebrated a record number of female MPS winning seats in the UK general election.

Women head up the Tate Britain, National Gallery and BAFTA, and across the country more women are getting accepted into university than their male contemporaries. However, when it comes to IT, the statistics look very different.

Women are wildly underrepresented in the IT world and with a shortage of female employees in managerial and technical roles, the industry is suffering. TechCrunch reported last year that only five per cent of leadership positions in the corporate tech industry are held by women and this is set to decline even further as the percentage of women in the US computing industry is projected to drop from 24 per cent to 22 per cent by 2025.  Even tech giants like Google have struggled to address this inequality with the company admitting that only 17 per cent of its technical workforce are female.

Alongside the glaring benefits of a more equal workforce such as more diverse viewpoints and wider skills sets leading to better business decisions, the most frustrating issue at play here is that there is already a dearth of talent in IT which desperately needs to be filled. The Guardian projects that if the current trajectory continues, there will be one million more jobs in the industry than graduates to fill them by 2020.

Cyber security in particular has been hit hard, with a decline in skilled workers that is set to leave the industry 1.8 million short by 2022 according to a Frost and Sullivan report, and in the current climate, this is an area that cannot be ignored. By encouraging women to pursue these roles and consider IT as a viable career option, this demand could easily be met and the industry would benefit as a result - after all, women use technology as much as men so to use their skills in innovation will widen the market and help to fill product gaps for female consumers.

However, moving towards a more gender equal workforce in IT industries is easier said than done. Widespread change is required in the perception and attitude towards women working in tech, with many females facing unfair stereotyping and discrimination for choosing what is perceived by many in society to be a male career. We see that girls are less inclined to pursue technical subjects from a young age as although 57 per cent of US college students are female, 82 per cent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) are male and this comes down to education, with a shortage of female STEM teachers and role models to influence students.

The women that do end up in a technical careers often face greater challenges than their male counterparts as they struggle to fit in as a minority in the workplace. It is also speculated that in general, female employees are less boastful of their contributions, letting male colleagues step in and take credit for their work in a professional environment, meaning that their victories go unnoticed by management and they are less likely to be promoted.

It is clear that there is a need for wider societal change to redress the gender balance in the tech workplace. We may be wise to take tips from countries like Russia who boast high percentages of females in technology roles compared to the rest of the world and put this down to strong role models, a gender neutral school curriculum and an attitude towards science as a national priority, and an area that all citizens can be proud to work in. However, there are already movements across the UK to move towards a more equal attitude towards tech jobs, with the Girl Guides pioneering new badges for coding and computer skills for its members and companies offering a wide range of  IT positions for girls considering a career in the industry.

About the author:

Rowan Chernin writes about Tech and outdoor activities including a life-long obsession with the English coast line.

Recommendations to solve Europe’s ICT and STEM skills gap released by ERT

A set of recommendations to increase employability and tackle youth employment in ICT and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) have been released by the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT).

According to the report Europe will face a shortage of 820,000 ICT professionals by 2020.

The recommendations have been made for European governments, schools, universities and businesses to work together to close the ICT and STEM skills gap. The report suggests a number of measures to boost hard and soft skills.

ERT recommends the modernisation of EU Member State’s education systems and that a more positive image of ICT and STEM should be promoted particularly towards females.Europe skills shortage

The report also recommends a regular EU-level platform involving business, national ministries of education and industry to promote STEM and ICT.

Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, Chairman of the Executive Committee and CEO, said: “Young generations need to be employable, that is, agile in adapting and entrepreneurial in acquiring skills and understanding, to succeed in a job market environment that is rapidly changing, spurred on by a digitally-driven economy.”

The full ERT recommendations for STEM and ICT are as follows:
  • Encourage the modernisation of the EU Member States’ education system

No student should leave school without a basic set of STEM and ICT skills as these are essential to operate and function in a fully digitised information society. Member States must develop and implement national STEM and ICT skills strategies which could include setting national targets.

  • Promote a positive image of STEM and ICT – in particular directed towards girls and women

STEM and ICT related professions are still perceived as unattractive by many young talents. All stakeholders should join forces to promote STEM and ICT as a rewarding domain with exciting career perspectives for men and women.

  • Raise awareness of future and new job profiles

The European Commission, business and research centres should co-operate to identify early on new STEM and ICT job profiles and the associated skill sets. The outcomes should be promoted via a dedicated pan-European and cross-industry campaign, leading to the required changes in university curricula and occupational standards.

  • Support innovative STEM and ICT training initiatives

Specific ICT training courses can address short-term qualification needs and help young unemployed people in particular to find a job. The European Commission and Member States should support such initiatives, for example by providing public funding for training platforms and IT training vouchers for unemployed talents.

  • Develop a regular EU-level platform involving business, national ministries of education and industry as well as other stakeholders working in the Member States on the promotion of STEM and ICT

The objective of the platform would be to:

- enable the partners to compare best practices throughout the EU

- compare how STEM and ICT skills shortages are tackled in a structural way with long-term impact

- identify common needs that could be addressed at EU level

- encourage other EU Member States that are not taking sufficient action