On the 3 and 4 February, the Women4IT Team joined DIGITALEUROPE’s annual Masters of Digital (MoD) – a flagship event exploring current themes in technology and ways of working together towards building a stronger digital Europe.
MoD 2021 brought together many high-level speakers and attendees, including top European policymakers, such as President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen and President of the European Council, Charles Michel; national government representatives: Nadia Calviño, Spanish Minister for Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation and Fernanda Ferreira Dias, Director-General for Economic Activities, Portuguese Ministry of Economy and Digital Transition; as well as a wide range of corporate actors, associations, digital experts and other key stakeholders.
Digital skills – the key to progress
Across many topics around digital addressed throughout the conference, digital skills were truly a buzzword mentioned in almost every panel and keynote in the context of education, sustainability, healthcare, and public sector development, with speakers deeming upskilling essential to advance not only the digital sector itself, but society as a whole. President von der Leyen highlighted that we must invest “in the skills EU workers need for the digital transition”, while Ms. Ferreira Dias announced digital skills as a priority spending area for the EU’s COMPET Council. Representing the industry in the ‘Digital Road to Recovery’ panel, Mr. Norbert Lütke-Entrup (Siemens) noted that digital skills are key for the labour market and how we progress as a society. When talking about digital education, Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, DIGITALEUROPE’s Director-General, stated that “we can leave no one behind and we must make sure that SMEs, as a financial backbone of Europe, can enter the digital era”.
New skills for the new world
Digital skills were discussed in detail also in one of MoD’s panels. Moderated by LJ Rich (BBC), the “Digitally Enlightened: New World, New Skills” discussion saw interventions from Una Fitzpatrick (Tech Ireland), Mette Lundberg (IT-Branchen), Anna Ferenczy (Codecool), and Norberto Mateos Carrascal (Intel).
Ms. Lundberg cautioned that “we will never fill the gap of women in digital if we don’t introduce digital and tech in the early years of girls”, making clear that we need concrete strategies to encourage more girls into STEM subjects and qualified professionals who are equipped to teach digital skills to young people. Her intervention brought the audience’s attention to the existing gender and cultural perception problem, calling for the notion of girls in tech and technology as a career path for girls and boys alike to be normalised. How? In particular, through responsible education from a young age, preventing future discrimination and encouraging diversity.
Mr. Carrascal suggested that “the solution in digital education will come from teachers”, stressing the importance of adequately preparing those who will be training future generations for work. A solution offered by the panel was to shift to a lifelong learning approach, which will ensure that citizens, and in particular, teachers, are ready for future technologies and know how to embrace them to their benefit when they arrive.
The panel also noted that the pandemic has enabled flexible working patterns and proved them to be viable, opening up opportunities for more women to work in the technology sector despite differences in lifestyle. Ms. Ferenczy incentivised having women in the workplace to employers by reminding them that there are many studies indicating that a “company’s profits are going to increase by 30% if there is diversity in the workforce”. Ms. Fitzpatrick went further to illustrate that having women in the workplace is an asset, as she acknowledged that “a lot of them have caring responsibilities”, but in fact this means “they bring life experience in the workplace”. She stressed that the leadership is very important too, so employers should prepare to welcome women into the workplace by having frameworks set to allow for their needs and inclusion.
Women4IT in action at Masters of Digital 2021
In addition to the scheduled discussions, the Expo section of the virtual conference hosted a Women4IT booth, which attendees could enter to read more about the project, download resources, chat with the Women4IT Team and discuss the initiative with other conference participants, as well as ask questions. interactions in the booth saw particular interest from audience members on how they could get involved in the project as trainees or collaborate with project partners on its implementation, showing that there is an appetite both for receiving training and helping women to develop their skills and accommodating their needs in the workplace. The team also received questions on how to scale-up the initiative, with audience members recognising the need for projects such as Women4IT and taking interest in how they can provide opportunities for more women, e.g. in a broader age range and of different nationalities.
Digital skills were shown to be a critical theme for discussion across the full two-day event, with high-level individuals on both the policy and corporate sides calling for initiatives and frameworks to resolve the skills gap, meet the growing digital skills demand in Europe and bring more diversity to ICT jobs. What remains clear is that even with concrete strategies in place, this will be a joint effort from all actors: the public sector, the industry, training providers, educators, NGOs, citizens, and the media. With its accessible digital skills training and work on the ground, Women4IT is proud to be part of the pan-European solution.