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OPINION: Doing better for women means doing better for everyone

by Sandra Sancier-Sultan and Sandra Scharf | McKinsey & Company
Tuesday, 1 February 2022 09:19 GMT

A woman with a laptop is seen in Hi-Tech Park Belarus building in Minsk, Belarus March 17, 2016. To match Insight BELARUS-TECH/ REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Bringing more women into the tech sector is good for the economy and even better for society

Sandra Sancier-Sultan is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Paris office; Sandra Scharf is an associate partner in the Dusseldorf office.

Predicting the future is a perilous business, but we are certain that technology—particularly digital ones—and sustainability will do much to shape the future. Certainly, the European Union is betting on this: most of the €724 billion ($810 billion) COVID-19 recovery package is directed at these sectors. To capture their potential, however, a third element is necessary: women.

This is not just a matter of social equity. For companies to get the talent they need in the fields where they need it, women (who make up half the population) will have to play a substantive role. And right now, they are not.

According to Eurostat, women hold only 17% of major technology jobs, such as programming, systems analysis, or software development. And while they comprise 47% of environmental scientists, women comprise less than 20% of other major sustainability-related occupations, such as electrical, mechanical, and civil engineers.

No wonder there are significant talent shortages in Europe—on the order of 1.4 million technology jobs, and 2.4 million sustainability jobs, according to the OECD.

The future looks murky, too. Women students are greatly underrepresented in the degree categories that dominate the typical hiring pools in the sectors that will need to grow; for example, they make up only 20% of the graduates in the information and technology degree programs that form the main digital hiring pools for the technical roles of the future.

Making the matter even more critical, there is evidence that companies that do better at deploying female talent, do better in other important ways. Specifically, those with 30% or more women on their boards have 1.5 times better environmental scores, and four times the R&D investments of companies that have none. More broadly, McKinsey research has consistently found that companies in the top quartile for women on executive teams were more likely to have above-average profitability.

That is the problem: gender gaps and job shortages in two vitally important sectors. Fortunately, there are also solutions. Three areas stand out.

Be imaginative: Widening the hiring pipeline could make it possible for more women to come through; for that to happen, business as usual will not do the job. Think about hiring for skills, not degrees. One approach to increase the hiring pool is to create partnerships with massive online courses (MOOCs) and other education programs, such as coding bootcamps, and then to recruit from them.

Be persistent: Improving female representation will not just happen; it has to be made a priority, and actively pursued. One approach is for leadership to lock in the idea that the aspiration for all new businesses and projects is the equal representation of men and women. Another is to track the percentage of women in leadership positions, and continually increase it.

We know that progress is possible. On the whole, however, such initiatives are either not happening or not working. While women in Europe represent about 35% of managers, that number has gone up just 1.3 percentage points in the past decade and has actually fallen in some countries.

If Europe is to fully overcome the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—and indeed, to come out better and stronger—we have to do better. For all sectors of the economy to capture the full potential of technology and sustainability, women will have to play a major role.

Doing better for women, then, means doing better for everyone.

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