Microsoft: We can't leave half of Europe's talent in the dark ages

Women must be encouraged to work in ICT or Europe will be left with a talent shortage

This exclusive article was written by the president of Microsoft International exclusively for IDG Connect to mark International Girls in ICT Day


According to the European Commission (EC), only 30% of the seven million people currently working in the European ICT sector are women. At the same time, Europe’s businesses are nervously peering over the edge of a digital skills black hole, one that threatens to swallow up potential future economic growth.

Expanding the IT skills of a new generation of women, and encouraging more females to pursue jobs in tech is absolutely vital if we want to stop this skills gap from growing further. If we don’t, the EC predicts as many as 825,000 unfilled ICT jobs by 2020. ICT skills are also becoming increasingly important across sectors. Even today, 90% of all European jobs require some level of digital skills and this number continues to grow. With the number of digital jobs growing by approximately 100,000 a year, and with the number of fresh graduates and skilled technology workers failing to keep up, we cannot afford to wait any longer to strengthen and diversify Europe’s talent pipeline.

We must step up and do much, much more to encourage girls to cultivate their interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, opening their eyes to the opportunities that await them in the tech sector. Figures from the EC highlight that balancing the proportion of men and women in the industry would actually boost the EU economy by an estimated £9bn annually — that’s a statistic that we cannot ignore.

But to feed that flame of opportunity it’s imperative that we dispel old-fashioned, stereotypical myths that suggest that the technology sector isn’t for girls. Opening up opportunities to meet women working in the field and to meet other girls their own age with similar interests in maths and science can have a profound effect. 

Enter initiatives such as International Girls in ICT Day today. Programmes like this are powerful tools for helping to engage individual young women and for igniting that all-important spark of interest that can lead to fulfilling careers and, more broadly, support the region’s economic growth.

Today, countries across Europe will host events aligned with the goals of the International Girls in ICT initiative. At Microsoft, we are working together with partners and NGOs to roll out events in 11 countries in April and May, aimed at connecting young women to tech role models across the region, and providing opportunities to learn more about technology and careers in ICT. We expect more than 1,500 young women will participate in these events which offer training and support to both girls and young women in countries including Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Norway and Poland.

To date, more than 111,000 young women have taken part in more than 3,500 events for International Girls in ICT day, held in 140 countries around the world. This is a great start, but more can be done. Granting access to targeted training and forging introductions to female role models working in the tech industry opens up new digital doors for girls in Europe. It’s our hope that these events give girls the confidence to find out what it’s really like to work in the technology sector, to challenge assumptions and to form their own opinions of STEM subjects.

We’re committed to encouraging many more females and young people into IT here in Europe. Through International Girls in ICT Day and other programs such as DigiGirlz, part of Microsoft’s YouthSpark scheme, and our Kodu coding academy initiative (for boys and girls), which complement vital education policies. They create more opportunities to engage and educate young people through training events, high tech camps and competitions all centered on gaining enjoyable, hands-on experience with ICT.

But, we recognize that there is a lot more work to be done. Internally too, as we focus on increasing our own gender diversity at Microsoft. We call upon our peers in the private sector to find even more, new ways to inspire young women and to equip them with the tools and skills they need to excel in tomorrow’s labour market. Every success stands to deliver social and economic benefits to individuals, to local markets, and to Europe.

Let’s continue to create dynamic opportunities like those happening during International Girls in ICT Day to help all of our aspirational young European women to succeed in ICT. For the sake of the region’s future prosperity, we can’t afford not to.