The question has been in the air for years without a satisfying answer. The Web Summit conference in Lisbon has offered several solutions to encourage women to join the IT sector.
The Lisbon convention is one of the most important tech conferences in the world. Each year, around 60,000 developers and 1,200 speakers come to the Web Summit to discuss topics such as artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies and virtual realities.
The audition is surprisingly diverse this time around – almost half of all participants are women. That's unusual for an industry that predominantly attracts men, but the high number is not a coincidence: The organizers set aside 14,000 tickets this year that were made available to female participants at a reduced price.
This initiative aims to lure more women into the highly innovative tech sector. Even in the US, the hub of technological advances and home to companies such as Facebook, Apple and Uber, the proportion of women in the sector is quite small. According to the study "Girls Who Code," published by the consulting firm Accenture, women will hold only one in five tech jobs by 2025.
The situation in Germany is similar: A recent study showed that women make up 24 percent of the industry and only five percent occupy top tech management positions.
Education is the key
"Education is crucial in determining which profession women will choose, so it's important to spark interest in technologies at an early age," says Gillian Tans, the CEO of the travel portal Booking.com. The company was established in the Netherlands and now has more than 15,000 employees in 70 countries and is one of the largest tech firms in Europe.
Tans' mission? To make the IT industry more female. In order to accomplish that, she has launched a free mentor program at the Web Summit that addresses questions such as how to optimize one's resume for a primarily male industry or how to establish a start-up company.
Experienced mentors can discuss such matters during sessions with up to 50 women at the same time.
'We need role models, not quotas'
Forty-one-year-old Tania Oliveira from Portugal is one of them. She is the Managing Director of Creative Thinkers and a co-founder of the start-up YClient. Both companies focus on online marketing.
In the program, she hopes to learn more about the concrete steps she can take to push her business forward.
"Women are more cooperative, they help each other more than men and bring the social element into the team," she believes, although as she adds that women in tech are hard to find, especially those who are programmers. "Many studies have shown that companies are more successful and more competitive when working with mixed teams," added Tans.
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Tans also stressed the need for positive role models such as Facebook's CEO Sheryl Sandberg or Yahoo's Marissa Mayer: "I've always been curious and taken many risks, but that is quite atypical for a woman. On the other hand, I think that's the only way to grow beyond yourself," Tans said.
However, Tans does not believe in quotas. "Every company must make its own decision about who the best person is for the job. If firms were made to hire according to quotas, it might optimize the percentage of women in the industry, but that doesn't necessarily translate into more quality products for the customer."
The Web Summit takes place from November 6-9, 2017.