Inspiring, fierce, dedicated to her vision. That’s Anja Monrad: Senior Vice President & General Manager at Dell EMC, Chair of Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition’s Governing Board and one of – still not so many – Executive Women in Tech.
We sat with her to discuss the extensive impact of her work on the European digital skills landscape. In the interview, Anja tells us more about Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition (DSJC) and how she governs it as part of its Board, explains why developing digital skills is crucial in our modern society, and reminds us to keep our gender lens on when looking at the skills gap problem.
Anja Monrad – Senior Vice President & General Manager at Dell EMC, Chair of Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition’s Governing Board, DIGITALEUROPE Board Member
DE: Why do you think developing digital skills is so important nowadays?
AM: I’ve been in the IT sector for almost 30 years. And for all these years, we have been talking about the impact of IT on society and how IT is driving societal evolution, but never before has it been so true as it is today. Digital transformation is happening all around us; every company is essentially a technology company. Every process, every interaction between companies and people, customers, local governments, citizens, patients in hospitals… all of these are becoming more and more digitalised. Nowadays, understanding technology becomes essential in staying relevant as an employee but also in simply being a citizen. If you look at digital skills, you can see them both in terms of the usage of technology and the creation of it. In both aspects, the skills, or at least an understanding, are crucial.
DE: What is the role of Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition to boost digital skills development?
AM: The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition (DSJC) is an EU initiative that is anchored in almost all of the EU Membership countries. There are National Skills and Jobs Coalitions in the Member States where you have a combination of government, unions, educational and corporate representatives – everyone that, in one way or the other, has an interest in boosting digital skills and jobs. The National Coalitions are really where most of the impact is happening in the countries. The DSJC Governing Board is the umbrella, bringing all that work together by sharing best practices between the countries, providing the Commission with strategic input and advice on main focus points in the area of digital skills and jobs, and showcasing the work done within this field externally.
DE: What is the main focus of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition’s work?
AM: The focus of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition is really in four areas. The first one is Digital Skills for all. That’s what I spoke about before – being a citizen in a digitalised world. It is really focusing on ensuring that all citizens – whether they live in a metropolis or in a remote rural area – can live and thrive in a digital world.
Another focus area is analysing the education system and ensuring that we teach digital skills to all children. At DSJC, we promote the idea of introducing digital skills to the school’s curricula either as mentoring or voluntary courses. It’s important that we get all kids to have an interest in digital skills and start as early as possible.
The next area is STEM-related jobs. The EU citizens are going to be consuming the digital solutions, but we need somebody to actually create them, too. We need more and more young people to select STEM education and be trained in creating new technology.
The fourth area is reskilling projects among today’s workforce. If you are already out of the school system and working, you will be impacted by the need to reskill – at one point of your career or another. Here the main focus for the DSJC is to work with unions and the corporate world to ensure that those reskilling conversations and projects are happening.
To sum up: the key areas the DSJC’s activity are digital skills in primary schools, STEM education, reskilling the existing workforce – all while ensuring that everyone living in Europe today can be a happy citizen in a digitalised world.
On top of these, there is an umbrella topic: promoting the idea of having a career in IT among girls and women. No matter what we do, we also need to keep a gender lens on this. The gender gap in IT is still too wide today and we need to make sure we take a proactive approach in fighting it. It’s not only good for businesses, it’s the right thing to do.
DE: How do we maintain the gender lens and keep engaging girls and women more into the IT sector?
AM: I think that there is a lot of different angles here. All research shows that the very young girls are equally interested in technology as boys. And then, at the age of 10-12, they shift away from those interests. Some of it is pressure, some of it is not wanting to do the things that the boys do – so in this area, it’s all about making sure that girls understand that it’s cool to do IT and it’s cool to code, it’s not a boys’ thing, and you can actually do a lot of super interesting things. It’s all about playing with them and ensuring that they see other girls and have various role models. Even doing girls-only coding classes might be a solution as long as we’re able to show that technology is not just for boys.
In the STEM education system, it’s making sure that girls find it attractive to work within IT in the future and hence start selecting some of the courses in that area. A lot of this is around communication; it’s around how we position the industry and how we position STEM education itself. There is a lot of success in attracting girls into STEM-related education by just changing the description of curricula and making it more society-relevant. Just talking about what IT does for society rather than how you make the IT or tech in itself can make a difference.
I meet with young women around Europe and have many conversations around IT. What a lot of them tell me before they select education, is that they want to do something good for society, they want to work with sustainability, environmental issues, in the health industry; they want to work with people. When you get to tell them that, for example, the biggest impact in healthcare that you can have now is actually with technology, you get to spark their interest very easily.
So yes, you can be a doctor, but you can also work with how IT accelerates the cure of cancer or you can use IT to determine how to become a much more effective practitioner. Rather than being one doctor, you can be the person who helps develop the technology that impacts thousands of doctors. The same thing with sustainability – there are so many things you can do to impact our environment and create a sustainable planet through IT. Once you start positioning that, they get a different perspective of what this industry is and what it does to humankind.
Then the next area is really getting women into the IT companies. And here again, just like with the curriculum in your education, it’s all about how we describe the job postings in this industry. How do we make sure that they understand what impact tech has on society? And how do we make sure that women feel that they are appreciated and invested in once they’ve joined the companies? What we do is we work with different companies around specific programmes to attract, retain and develop women at the workplace. Above that, a huge task is to systematically manage the unconscious bias – to make sure that it’s not becoming a women’s issue to fix the lack of women, but a gender-neutral issue to ensure that we have a diverse and inclusive environment in all companies.
DE: What is your one favourite thing about leading the Board and the Coalition when it comes to digital skills?
AM: One favourite? It’s tough to choose. The personal favourite is that it’s super inspiring to be able to do something that is not necessarily tightly connected to my corporate role. I’m a true believer in Europe and in the European Union, so being able to have impact and do something that would enhance the EU and its citizens, especially young people, is very giving. It’s energising and inspiring to be able to give back to Europe. Great work is being done in all the countries and our job is to get a sense of how we can help to share these best practices from one area to another, from one country to another.
DE: I can imagine that upon reading this interview, many people would be excited to get involved in this initiative. How can they do this?
AM: Join the Coalition and sign the pledge! If you are an organisation, a group or a governing body taking action to boost digital skills in Europe, you can apply to become a member of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition any time you want. Then you can also pledge that you will actively work on one of the four areas I mentioned. It’s not only very gratifying to be part of the Coalition community, but you also get an extra dose of motivation to take concrete steps and inspire change.