It is that time of the year again: young men and women are applying for higher education, hopefully many of them excited about the transition to higher education and following their dreams. Close to 60% of all new applicants for higher education in Norway are women, but women are still a minority in IT and technology. There is a tiny improvement from last year’s 24,2% women applying to Information technology degrees, to 26,2% in April 2019 (Samordnaopptak).
Looking at the numbers of female applicants for the Information technology bachelor in the rural region is however depressing: only 1 woman among 20 applicants. Why are there so few women who dream about a future that includes IT competence? And why so few in this region?
In our Nordwit interviews with companies and institutions in this rural region of Norway, the attitudes towards welcoming women in IT related positions are positive! But at the same time, almost every company and institution that we talked with had experienced the challenge of identifying and recruiting women – to such a degree that it made some of them even start to question whether they really needed more women in IT positions. When interviewing women working with IT in the same region, we found many women working in different sectors and industries, while we were not successful in identifying and recruiting many women working as IT experts in private IT companies. And it is almost tempting to ask if the single female applicant is a part of a trend – are women starting to doubt that they are needed in the IT industry in this rural region?
Whatever reasons there are for the poor numbers for our regional IT education, it should worry all of us: the businesses who need IT experts today and in the coming years; the University College who will miss out on many talents; and the young women who miss out on a type of competence needed in nearly every branch and industry in the years to come. As Mariscal et al. suggest: “A better digital inclusion of women will also significantly improve their financial inclusion” (2019). Failing to recruit women will affect the economy, as the “absence of women working in the information and communication sector is argued to be costing the European economy 9 billion euros a year in lost revenue” (Maclean, Marks & Chillas, 2017, ref. to Iclaves, 2013).
On the other side: it is possible to make changes. Carnegie Mellon University is one of the higher education institutions that has worked active and systematic with the challenge of recruiting women for several decades, and they now have about 50-50 in many classes (Frieze & Quesenberry). It requires an effort! I guess that the main question then is this: What is our excuse?
Carlin, M. S., Skjellaug, B., Nygaard, S., Vermesan, O., Svagård, I. S., Andreassen, T. W., . . . Røhne, M. (2015). Effekter av teknologiske endringer på norsk nærings-og arbeidsliv. Rapport A27222, SINTEF IKT.
Iclaves, S. (2013). Women active in the ICT sector. European Commission, Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology.
Maclean, G., Marks, A., & Chillas, S. (2017). Women, Work and Technology: Examining the Under-Representation of Women in ICT. In K. Briken, S. Chillas, M. Krzywdzinski, & A. Marks (Eds.), The New Digital Workplace: How New Technologies Revolutionise Work (177-194): Palgrave Macmillan.
Mariscal, J., Mayne, G., Aneja, U., & Sorgner, A. (2019). Bridging the gender digital gap. Economics: The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, 13(2019-9), 1-12.
Frieze, C., & Quesenberry, J. L. (2019). How computer science at CMU is attracting and retaining women. Commun. ACM, 62(2), 23-26. doi:10.1145/3300226