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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: https://ripe84.ripe.net/