From 09:00 to 12:30 on 28 April 2022, the FPS Economy, in conjunction with Google, held a webinar to mark the European day “Girls and Women in ICT”. The event was filmed at the Google Atelier Digital at BeCentral.
The aim of this webinar was to showcase the national and intersectoral strategy Women in Digital, while at the same time offering a platform to contributors active on the ground and from the private, public and academic sectors. With the aid of three themed panels and inspiring accounts from female role models, several potential solutions were proposed to the problem of women’s underrepresentation in the STEM sectors (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and ICT.
Here, we take a brief look back at the key points made by the 27 speakers.
Word of welcome
Séverine Waterbley, President of the FPS Economy
This is not just a feminist issue but a real economic problem which must be addressed in order to avoid future shortages.
There is a distinct lack of inspiring role models to encourage young women and girls to follow these study paths and forge careers in these sectors. The FPS Economy has produced 5 inspiring video briefs demonstrating that “talent is genderless” (also available on the website BeDigitalTogether) :
Petra De Sutter, FPS Telecommunications Minister
Psychological and structural obstacles are a factor in the rather slow progression of women in middle and especially senior management positions (top-level women civil servants). More so than men, women fear that a management post could give them a bad reputation and lead to them being perceived negatively by those around them.
It’s also important to ensure the right balance in terms of the algorithms on certain platforms, in order to detect hate speech against women and combat algorithmic bias.
Matthieu Michel, State Secretary for State for Digitisation
The digital sector is a reflection of society (health, mobility, work in general) and must be open to everyone, not just men.
The digital sector needs to allow for all differences in terms of gender, socioeconomics, culture… We require a new mentality, for a new Smart Nation based on the 3 key pillars of inclusivity, convergence and ambition.
We need to build a society where everybody is represented, in reflection of our country, in order to ensure harmonious coexistence and a healthy social model.
Zara Rutherford, solo round-the-world aviator
Don’t give up on your dreams, chase them and give everything to achieve them, even if at first everyone tells you it’s impossible.
Zara Rutherford is the youngest woman ever to have flown solo around the world and wants to encourage other women to follow their dreams and pursue STEM careers, whether in aviation or other innovative fields.
The “Education and Employment Support” panel
Stéphanie Cortisse, Member of Parliament of the Walloon-Brussels Federation
Stimulating careers in the digital sector starts with the right hardware.
We provide stocks of computers to secondary schools but also to pupils themselves, in the form of a 75-euro subsidy from the Walloon-Brussels Federation for the purchase or lease of digital hardware supplied by the schools or by the organising bodies. We also hire educational technologists, who help teachers and schools to develop their digital strategies (e.g. to respond to calls for projects) and also assist teachers with course development.
Jan Smedts, Cabinet of Minister-President Jan Jambon (Vlaanderen)
It’s an economic reality that we currently have a skills deficit and to solve it, we need to implement wider political measures rather than focusing solely on defined segments, in order to include everyone.
Digisprong is an acceleration of what we’ve already been doing as part of the Flemish Resilience plan, namely 9 million euros for digitisation, of which the 3rd pillar, Investing in Talents, is the largest. Digisprong forms part of this. We’re talking here about an investment of 375 million euros, which is actually 12 times the normal level of investment in equipment, infrastructure, training and management.
Catherine Bernard, UNamur
It’s a fact that girls in the field of science tend to favour the health sciences over STEAM, primarily due to a lack of confidence regarding STEAM and because they value professions with a human factor.
The 2021 Gender Scan survey, the first to include French-speaking Belgium, showed that 6 out of 10 female students had been discouraged from following courses in the digital field, primarily by family members and by their primary and secondary school teachers.
On a more positive note, 89% of the young women questioned said they were satisfied with their choice of studies as it was an interesting sector of study and the job prospects were good. The problem of the underrepresentation of young women in these fields is a Europe-wide one.
Mathilde Delforge, Cabinet of Minister Christie Morreale (Walloon Region)
As part of the Wallonia recovery plan approved by the Walloon government in 2021, an action plan will be deployed with the aim of alleviating the imbalance in terms of promotion in the professions, skills and sectors within STEAM, with special attention to be paid to A for Artistic, as we’re in particular need of creativity with regard to innovation.
In order to showcase the tech professions, the event Startech’s Days is being organised by WorldSkillsBelgium at Ciney Expo, with a section devoted to the promotion of these roles.
Stéphanie Lepczynski, Cabinet of State Secretary Barbara Trachte (RBC)
The public authorities need to listen to the experiences of these women & girls who feel under-represented, those who have chosen these sectors and succeeded. When we hear a lot of these women repeating the same message, it’s time to adapt our tools & instruments.
There’s a great deal of awareness-raising going on in Brussels, with the WATS award (Women Ambassadress in Technology and Sciences) bestowed by Innoviris every two years to a local female technologist or scientist who commits to promoting science and technology in schools. Applications are open on the Innoviris website to any Brussels women with a passion for technology and science.
Max Munnix, Cabinet of Minister Isabelle Weykmans (German-speaking Community)
We want to ensure that young people gain a good command of the digital tools and instil them with sufficient confidence so they don’t feel inferior when it comes to technology.
To achieve this, we’re adopting a three-pronged approach: the creation of programmes for teaching units already in existence in order to facilitate children’s first contact with the digital sector; holiday workshop between schools and stakeholders from the world of industry and economics, in order to showcase profiles which currently exist or might exist in future (at primary and secondary levels); a major media and digital workshop featuring technology in current use on the market (3D printers, virtual reality glasses…) to allow children to try them out.
Angélique Léonard, Women and Science Committee
One of the roles of the Women and Science Committee is to encourage greater gender equality at the level of scientific/academic careers. But this still needs to be extended to the masters/doctorate level so they can continue their careers there.
We need to attract more girls into these careers and one way of doing that is to intervene at the moment of the choice of options made in secondary school, where one’s friends and family play a significant role. Information campaigns in the media can be useful in terms of reaching the parents in order to persuade them that these careers are just as fulfilling for girls, and to remove any obstacles. Why not highlight female role models in IT professions just as has been done with women doctors in numerous medical series?
Albert Vallejo, Mattel
We need to provide young girls with emancipation tools, as toys also have a role to play in the stereotypes conveyed.
Role models are also important. For instance, we’re working with the captain of the French women’s football team Amandine Henry and with the astrophysicist from the European Space Agency Angélique Van Omberghen, as well as highlighting the heroes of Covid (nurses, scientists, doctors – with Sarah Gilbert in the UK for example).
Rosanna Kurrer, Cybersecurity Personality of the Year Belgium, CyberWayFinder
I want to inspire people, first and foremost women, and get them to understand that career transitions are perfectly normal and that even if you don’t have a degree in engineering or IT, a career in cybersecurity is not only fulfilling and significant but also entirely possible, irrespective of age and level of education.
For women to switch successfully to the tech sector, regardless of their age, education or culture, it takes courage and hard work. Not because the people around you are going to try to obstruct you, but because you will need to accept yourself as an IT expert. You need to convince yourself that it’s going to work for you too.
Courage starts by showing up and letting yourself be seen, being present.
It’s important to understand that it starts with diversity. You can’t innovate without integrating different perspectives, points of view and profiles.
“Career and professional reorientation” panel
Caroline Coesemans, Google
#IamRemarkable is a very simple but highly effective workshop. We help people to promote themselves. If you say something about yourself which is based on facts, then it can’t be regarded as boasting.
Within the whole of Google, 32% of employees across all departments are women. Within the legal team alone, we’re at 50-50. It’s important that this is also reflected at management level.
“Women Will” is a programme aimed at boosting women’s autonomy. Now at Google, you can access the figures needed to find out if your salary is the same as that of others at the same level. This transparency makes it easier to discuss these matters. We think it’s important that the different elements of a person’s contribution (length of service, qualifications, experience) are taken into account and not just whether you’re a man or a woman.
Laurent Hublet, BeCentral
Code is a language and all human beings are very good at learning languages, whether boys or girls. But as code isn’t part of the compulsory primary school curriculum, it has to be learnt separately.
At BeCentral, in the central station, we run a variety of courses for a wide variety of members of the public. On the campus, it’s clear to see that there are some very female-dominated digital professions such as digital marketing, but cybersecurity represents the other extreme. Generally speaking, here on campus we try to demystify tech in order to combat this “imposter syndrome” vis-à-vis technology. This syndrome affects the whole of society but age is also a factor in that older people are more affected by it. Everyone should be able to take their place in the digital world.
Elena Lanzoni, Interface3
There is a high degree of ignorance regarding IT professions. In our view, creating training courses aimed specifically at women enables us to combat these discriminatory factors via communication that solely targets women via the use of female role models.
According to the latest figures, in the Walloon-Brussels Federation in 2019, there were 22 females who obtained Masters in computer science, compared with 217 males. These are the figures from across all universities, so there’s a risk of having a lecture theatre with only one or two females in it. So it’s a minority situation that’s very hard to tolerate, not only because the women concerned find themselves facing sexist situations, but also because there’s a risk of what’s known as the threat of gender stereotypes: individuals perform less well when they know that a stereotype exists vis-à-vis the group they belong to, as this creates a degree of anxiety. All this has the result of ensuring that a genuine 50-50 mix is not achieved.
Having a women-only learning situation at Interface3 forces the participants to play all the different roles. Psychologically, there needs to be a minimum percentage of women in lecture theatres in order to attract others. Having one or two in there is not sufficient, as it only has the token effect: “Oh nice, there’s a girl too!”
Sana Afouaiz, Womenpreneur
In the Arab world, over 65% of women study STEM subjects, whereas here it’s the opposite, despite having every opportunity.
Womenpreneur is a Belgian association which works on the economic participation of women through entrepreneurship and job creation, in the employment fields of tomorrow. Our aim is to truly have women behind new technologies and innovations.
Each year, we take our Volkswagen van on tour in different countries and make documentaries about the women working in tech there.
Ellen Cardon, VLAIO
IT is not an end in itself, but a means of doing all sorts of things.
We need to place more emphasis on this as a sector, as IT is ubiquitous, whether in hospitals and schools and in commerce and industry in general. Communication is only a part of this as, from another angle, every IT project is a multidisciplinary project. We require different perspectives to develop an IT solution, in practice and within your business, and to ensure that more women participate.
“Business awareness-raising” panel
Claire Godding, Febelfin – FEB
It’s above all the responsibility of businesses: “don't fix the women, but fix the society.
This is very important for societal reasons and for reasons of visibility, as “you can’t be what you can’t see.” If someone isn’t able to see others that they can identify with, that makes it really complicated. A young man and a young woman who have finished their studies, are entering the corporate world and are looking upwards, both see something different. The man sees a whole series of persons with which he can identify, while the woman perhaps sees an HR or communications manager and that’s it. That doesn’t help when it comes to imagining oneself in various roles.
The issue of the retention of women within companies is absolutely fundamental and, just as it’s necessary to measure the gender mix at the different levels, it’s also important to calculate the degree of inclusion, both within the company as a whole and more specifically within IT departments.
In order to reinforce this, we’ve launched the “Inclusive Panels Charter” and I’m inviting all businesses from tech and finance and all these sectors where it’s very hard for women to imagine themselves, to sign this charter and to commit to ensuring that in all their events, the panels are mixed and a lot more diverse.
Based on what are often very negative observations (presence of suffering, micro-aggressions, etc…), it’s vital to be able to tackle them using the right tools. For the financial sector, we’ve created a toolbox comprising 25 tools, in order to address the issue of bias, reduce the risk of micro-aggressions, place the emphasis on communication and an inclusive culture and to explain what inclusive leadership means. Any person or company, regardless of their sector, can access this toolbox completely free at inclusioninfinance.be.
Saskia Van Uffelen, DigiSkillsBelgium and Digital Champion
We all have to be the change to be digital together.
It’s with this different vision and this knowledge that companies will be able to make a healthy profit, attract the right staff and carry out “intrapreneurship”. And these are very much feminine skills: being capable of thinking outside the box, inspiring people, empathic judgment, intersectoral cooperation, working inclusively, joining up the dots by linking different elements together. With this in mind, it’s useful for women to possess these technological skills and to be able to use technology to help resolve social or commercial problems.
If an individual wants to be trained in the right skills and, for example, Agoria’s Digital Skills passport to ascertain where they’re currently at in this regard, they need to be able to access the right initiative and that’s where digiskillsbelgium.be comes in.
Laurence Jacobs, Agoria
Self-training has never been so easy and accessible: there’s e-learning, micro-learning, MOOCs, online webinars, YouTube, LinkedIn... These days, courtesy of smartphones, there’s no longer any excuse to not self-learn. And that’s where our most important task lies as businesses: to motivate our employees to take part and self-train.
We’re setting up a postgraduate programme in collaboration with the VUB, the ULB and Febelfin, during which you will receive basic training in programming, AI, cybersecurity and computer methodology, such as ITIL Scrum. You’ll also be able to undergo a three-month placement with subsidiaries of Febelfin and Agoria. We’re aiming for at least 50% of our students to be women and these students will also be taught by women from the Inspiring Fifty initiative.
Eva McLellan, Roche
Where health care is concerned, 80% of decisions are taken by women, who basically play the role of head doctor within their household. It’s them who make the health decisions for their children and elderly parents, and the buyers and decision-makers are primarily women. Between 65 and 75% of health workers are women (nurses, doctors, hospital staff). However, only about 15% of healthcare system designers are women.
As regards digital skills, with the health systems going digital, it’s important that the users are also actively involved.
Diversity is very important, especially with regard to women. At macroeconomic level, according to recent data, if we can bridge the gap between the sexes by 2025, the economy could benefit to the tune of 13bn additional euros. That’s 3 times the GDP of Germany. And it’s even more important for diversity and inclusion as without diversity, there is no innovation. Roche is an innovative company in biotechnology and wants to remain competitive.
We’ve also introduced a policy on equal pay, flexible working hours, etc. It’s important to tackle this issue with a strategic plan and the men and women employees also need to be included in it so that it becomes part of the company’s culture.
A second key point concerns active mentoring and sponsorship, especially by successful women. If each woman who succeeds can support another woman on the road to success, and the same for men, then the process of change could be very fast. There’s plenty of work for everyone. and people need to retrain at a faster pace. There’s more than enough for everyone, so let’s pool our resources to achieve this goal.
Jack Hamande, SPF BOSA
We’re all rightfully entitled to pursue the same careers for the same pay. Diversity and inclusion are not new projects but something that’s been a central concern for a long time now.
The latest initiative, Connectoo, ensures that everyone in society has access to the basic minimum in terms of digital tools, namely the use of tools which each citizen needs to be able to use in order to feel included in a society which is becoming increasingly digitised. This programme is very important, since it aims to ensure that the public administrations are ready to cater for its citizens, regardless of their level of knowledge.
Tina Piga, Accenture
Placing the emphasis on the internal aspect is not enough. We also need to review the way in which recruitment takes place, and it remains fairly traditional, without a good balance between the sexes. Measures also need to be applied externally using non-standard methods in order to attract non-standard profiles on the market and then guide them towards technological consulting such as at Accenture.
We have the Technology Academy, where young people, such as young women from more disadvantaged backgrounds, undertake a month of intensive training in order to bring them into contact with digital technology consulting. They really learn what skills they will need to do it, while this month of intensive training also offers them the possibility of securing a permanent contract with Accenture.