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The pioneers of programming were women. Today, IT is a ‘man’s’ field.

In 2015, 1.4 million students in European Union countries were enrolled in ICT-related programmes. According to Eurostat figures, only 17% were women, with Slovenia close to the bottom of the list of 28 Member States at 9.7%. Only Luxembourg (8.3%) and the Netherlands (6%) had lower percentages. Bulgaria, where 34.4% of ICT students were women, came top of the list. It is interesting to note, however, that the pioneers of computer programming were women and that IT used to be a ‘woman’s domain’.
The picture is similar in the world of work if we look at those employed in the field of ICT. The sector employs around 8 million people (Eurostat, 2015), with women representing a mere 16% of the workforce on average. Again, Bulgaria is in the lead with 27.7%, followed by Romania (27.2%) and Latvia (24.7%). Slovenia is 17th out of 28 EU Member States with 16%. At the bottom are Hungary (11.9%), Slovakia (11.4%) and the Czech Republic (9.9%).

European Union research has shown that if more women worked in ICT, Europe’s GDP would increase by EUR 9 billion in one year. 

Efforts are under way across the world to encourage more women to study ICT-related subjects and, moreover, to work in the field after they finish their studies. For the first time last year, the European Union awarded prizes for digital skills, with one special category being devoted to those making efforts to develop girls’ and women’s digital skills. Every fourth Thursday in April, which is International Girls in ICT Day, the EU organises a range of events aimed at promoting women in ICT. This year, International Girls in ICT Day falls on 26 April. The EU also awards a special prize for female innovators. 

Computer development began with women
In 1958 Elsie Shutt was one of the first people to found an IT company in the United States. She was followed by Dina St Johnson in the UK a year later. Stephanie Shirley opened her IT company in 1962. They were pioneers of programming and mainly employed women, as IT was seen as a ‘woman’s’ field. Everything was turned on its head in the 1980s. Computers had developed to the point where they had become items of general use, but their capabilities were still poor, which is why they were more or less treated as toys. And because these were technical ‘toys’, they were marketed in advertising as toys for boys. Adverts told us that they were fun (as well as educational) toys for young boys. But as computers developed and moved further and further away from their status as toys, ideas about who they were intended for did not develop. We have been stuck with that advertising message: that they are fun, educational things for boys to play with. The IT field became (and has indeed become) a ‘man’s’ field.