‘Tearing down industry gender barriers could solve tech labour shortage’

The Women On IT forum is expected to highlight ways to increase female participation in the ICT world

The forum is also expected to serve as a platform of idea generation on how female participation could be encouraged and put under the spotlight
The forum is also expected to serve as a platform of idea generation on how female participation could be encouraged and put under the spotlight

A workforce shortage in the ICT sector could be remedied by higher female participation in the industry, Silvio Schembri believes.

The parliamentary secretary for the digital economy said the lack of female ICT professionals originated from a multitude of complex historical obstacles which have seen women struggle to overcome educational and labour hurdles.

“The main stumbling blocks which girls and women have had to overcome for generations on end, are gender bias and socio-cultural constructs, which at different life stages dissuade girls and women from taking up science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies,” Schembri said.

He was speaking at the launch of the Women on IT initiative earlier this week. The initiative seeks to identify key ways to increase female participation and empower women and girls across tech, start-ups and businesses.

The forum is also expected to serve as a platform of idea generation on how female participation could be encouraged and put under the spotlight.

Schembri said that higher female participation in the sector could help resolve the labour shortage problem currently present in the industry.

“We face a substantial deficit in the skills and competency levels of ICT professionals, a scenario which we believe with higher female participation in the industry, could be remedied,” he said.

European wide labour statistics show that women account for 52% of the continental population but only hold 15% of ICT-related jobs. On the domestic front, the same statistics reveal a stark reality.

Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri with Beata Young
Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri with Beata Young

“In Malta, this figure is down to a paltry 2.7%. This is a major conundrum which needs to be addressed immediately,” Schembri said.

He called for greater awareness of the gender bias that exists in homes, schools, and workplaces.

“We cannot expect a girl to enter a predominantly male-dominated field without the necessary support and relevant education. We must start to fully equip young women with self-confidence, learning, and training,” he said.

Schembri insisted that “toxic gender stereotypes” should be ditched if girls were to succeed.

“As parents, mentors and educators we cannot continue to push girls solely in one direction, that of occupying traditional roles as carers or career paths which we erroneously believe are more suited to girls,” Schembri said.

Malta made great strides in embracing the changes emergent technologies have brought about, he added. “With more female participation, we can only further reaffirm our leading position on the global stage.”

Schembri also made reference to the recently launched National eSkills Strategy, a framework which will address the need for continuous professional development, upskilling specialisation and retention of the workforce, the first of its kind in the EU.

“As a government, we seek to equip our younger generation with the necessary capabilities to embark on a fully-fledged career within the digital sector,” he said.

Beata Young, Founder of Women on IT said that eliminating such obstacle would be a ‘win-win’ for all.

“Our digital future depends on women just as much as men, and that is where Women on IT builds value for better business and better opportunity for women and Malta.”

Women on IT is supported by the Malta Business Network and other key stakeholders in the tech field.

‘Women do not feel welcome’ in ICT sector

It did not escape Beata Young’s eye when she arrived in Malta and noticed a lack of female participation in the domestic tech industry.
A serial entrepreneur, she has witnessed the same story in Poland, Abu Dhabi, London and Montreal.

“Women enter ICT amongst other sectors and we do not feel welcome. The loneliness, self-doubt and frustration that often comes with the minority status of being an ostensibly ‘token’ woman in STEM can be overwhelming,” she told BusinessToday.

According to The New York Times, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, over 56% of women with STEM expertise will leave the industry over the course of their careers.

Young insisted she was committed to fundamentally reshape the current culture of, “white guys talking to white guys delivering ‘brogramming’”.

“Half of the population is equally capable of programming, managing teams or running a startup. A growing body of research proves that revenues are far better in many companies than those run by male-only teams,” Young said.

Asked to elaborate on why the tech industry lacked female professionals, Young pointed out that there were simply not enough female graduates.

Young is a founder of the Women on IT initiative, which has the objective to promote the visibility and inclusion of women and people from other under-represented backgrounds.

“Apart from meet-ups we are planning workshops and different initiatives that will showcase the achievements of women in tech and throughout business while identifying new role models,” said Young.

She believes that following the success of blockchain island, it was time for Malta to become “the springboard for more digitally native women”.

“Our size enables agility. With a growing legion of stakeholders supporting the momentum, Women On IT is a springboard to delivering a diverse tech savvy workforce,” she insisted.

Women On IT was launched at the Xara Lodge this Monday during a joint meeting with the Malta Business Network.

The event was chaired by Joe Zammit Tabone, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Investment Promotion.

Guests included the British High Commissioner Stuart Gill and the French Ambassador Brigitte Curmi, as well as diplomatic representatives from the US Embassy and Australian High Commission.

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