Digital education

Increasing female participation in the digital sector: a collective endeavour and a challenge for society

Changed on 20/02/2023
The inaugural Assises nationales de la féminisation des métiers et filières numériques (National Conference on Increasing Female Participation in the Digital Sector) will be held on 16 February 2023 in Paris. Organised by Femmes@Numérique, which is supported by both Inria and the Inria Foundation, the event will shine a spotlight on initiatives aimed at encouraging more women to get involved in the industry of digital technology. We caught up with Muriel Brunet, head of Inria’s “Education and Digital” programme, and Peggy Vicomte, executive officer of Femmes@Numérique, to find out more.
Personnes avec ordinateurs portable rassemblées autour d'une table lors d'une réunion
© Inria / Photo B. Fourrier


What is your assessment of female participation in the digital sector?

Peggy Vicomte – The digital sector in France is currently too male-dominated: only 15% of women work in this area and barely 10% study engineering courses which lead to these types of positions. Between 2013 and 2017, the proportion of women with degrees in technology fell by 2% in France, but increased by 6% elsewhere in Europe.

Muriel Brunet – There are a number of deep-rooted reasons as to why women are so under-represented in tech jobs. As shown by research carried out by Isabelle Collet, a specialist on this issue, there remain stubborn, systemic obstacles to increasing female participation in the digital sector.

This inaugural edition of the conference is subtitled “Responding to the Emergency”.  Why is it an emergency?

P.V. – Addressing the lack of diversity in the digital sector is a collective endeavour. A number of studies have shown that there is a real skills shortage in our sector, with more than 400,000 positions needing to be filled by 2025.

M.B. - While this is certainly an economic issue - the impact of this shortage is estimated at eight million euros - it is also a social and a societal issue. Without contributions from women - missing out on half of the candidates the sector needs - you risk becoming less innovative and less competitive, not to mention less representative.

P.V. - It will also make digital technology more efficient, from design to use. Many applications are designed without factoring in women, meaning they aren't as good as they could be - like voice recognition software that is configured exclusively for male voices, for example.

What action can be taken to address this issue?

M.B. - This is a structural problem, and so an overarching policy is required. From education and lifelong learning to promoting professional careers and expertise, women with an interest in digital technology need support when it comes to their career objectives.

The more women there are in digital, the more the sector will evolve, giving women the place they deserve and ensuring they have the same opportunities as men. Steps have been taken in this direction by certain companies and within the public sector, including appointing women to management roles in IT, which is traditionally very male-dominated.

P.V. – This type of change will take time and require structural solutions. But we can speed the process up using targeted initiatives. One example would involve identifying students in sociology, economics or geopolitics with the requisite aptitude and skills and guiding them towards digital careers. Their academic background would prove extremely useful when it comes to data analysis or cybersecurity strategies. Similarly, retraining women for IT jobs would give them an opportunity to progress their career, while also addressing market needs.

What are the objectives of this first national conference and what format will it take?

P.V. – The aim is not to limit ourselves to observations, as important as they are, but rather to outline a strategy for unifying action at a national level. Making genuine progress on these questions will also require public and private financing, with digital diversity providing the perfect justification. 

With close to 500 participants from public authorities, community groups, businesses, schools, universities and research centres, the conference will feature talks, interviews and opportunities for discussion.

M.B. - Inria has been active within this cross-disciplinary ecosystem for a number of years on the Femmes@Numérique EXCO. This conference will restate the need to coordinate initiatives deployed by the national digital ecosystem and to make them permanent. Through their observatory for female participation in the digital sector, Femmes@Numérique will play a vital role when it comes to evaluating the impact of any such initiatives long-term.