The recent International Day of Women and Girls in Science, widely covered on social media, highlighted the scarcity of girls and women studying and practicing science. In Switzerland, in 2016 only 2% of electricians, 9% of technicians and 11% IT specialists and analysts were women. Interestingly, 47% of doctors are women, nearly at parity with men. Part of the issue is conscious bias, with widely traditional views of gender roles and women’s difficulties reconciling family life and career. There are also unconscious biases that keep women away from technological and scientific subjects, which start in the family and continue throughout life. According to the OECD, Switzerland has a smaller gap between the participation of 25-34 year-old women and men in tertiary education than on average across OECD countries: 51% of women obtain a tertiary degree compared to 49% of men.
Compulsory education in Switzerland is administered by each of the 26 cantons, not the federal government. While the Lehrplan21 and the Plan d’Etudes Romand have integrated digitalisation in their frameworks, each canton is free to implement as it chooses. This leads to potential gaps in how ICT subjects are covered, and in the absence of a concerted national plan, how will gender approaches be integrated to encourage girls to do more than learn the office suite and coding basics?
Should it be in school or outside?
According to a recent publication, “Relative to the other PISA 2006 countries, female STEM potential was high in Switzerland and across all of the Swiss cantons. There was a gender gap between high achieving male and female students across all countries and also across all cantons. Eight cantons were ranked in the top 10 with regards to female STEM potential, just behind Chinese Taipei (female STEM potential: 20.7%) and ahead of Macau-China (female STEM potential: 11.1%).”
The next generation programme, that digitalswitzerland supports, aims to trigger action on the part of families and youth, to promote interest and passion for STEM and ICT. The programme has expanded as more and more parents are eager to prepare their youngsters for the future. A new addition this year: opportunities for teachers and parents on the nextgeneration site. Summer camps can fill some of the gaps but the education system as a whole needs to move more rapidly with the times.
All about gender
The WEF 2018 Global Gender Gap Report ranks Switzerland 20th overall. Taking a closer look at the data, the ranking gets worse: Switzerland comes in 34th for Economic Participation and Opportunity and in terms of Educational Attainment, a mere 80th! For a highly educated country like Switzerland, these numbers aren’t good. There needs to be change.
In the European Union, the number of ICT specialists grew by 36.1 % from 2007 to 2017, over 10 times as high as the increase (3.2 %) of total employment. In 2017, the majority of ICT specialists were men; the share of female ICT specialists was 17.2 %, 5.3% less than a decade earlier. According to ICT Switzerland, “in 2015, women accounted for only 12% of all qualifications in this field. They are most strongly represented at the levels of federal certificate of proficiency and diplomas (16%) and universities (14%). Women account for only 11% of all technical school-leaving qualifications. If one looks at the proportion of women in IT students and students in Switzerland by type of training, it can be seen that the proportion of women has hardly risen since 2003. In 2015 it reached only 11.7%”.
The question remains, people say women must be part of the ICT sector, but how will women truly be enticed to enter and, more importantly, stay in this field?