Several recent studies, like the one by Janet Shibley Hyde and Marcia C. Linn in 2006, have demonstrated that mathematical skill is not a question of sex but something more cultural and related to the social inequalities suffered by women throughout history. According to an article in the magazine Science titled Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests, by Lin Bian, Sarah-Jane Leslie and Andrei Cimpian, as early as age six girls feel that their intellectual capacities are being questioned because of their sex, and avoid all activity that they associate with complex tasks that require the use of high intelligence. Thus the great importance of supporting actions that promote gender equality and getting rid of these stereotypes with regard to science, starting with primary education.
With regard to the ‘T’ in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), companies need to hire women not only because of the scarcity of qualified professionals in new technologies, but also because of the need to have mixed-sex teams capable of integrating different skills so as to solve increasingly complex problems.
As for the lack of professionals, cyber security is one of the areas that has caused the greatest concern in recent years. The future need for professionals in this area, along with a decreasing number of young people studying courses related to Information and Communication Technologies (ITC), point to an unpromising future. New technologies bring new threats and thus greater levels of protection, not only of systems and information, but also of people’s privacy. Technologies and paradigms like big data or the Internet of Things –in which all the devices and sensors are connected to the network sending data about our professional and personal life, including such critical areas as health– constitute a real challenge for protection and security.
New threats will arise from all these technologies, and we can thus expect that the demand for professionals in the cyber security field will continue to grow –a demand that will be hard to meet unless we bring new players on the scene. But what measures must be taken to incorporate and retain feminine talent?
In 2015, I took part in a study of this subject, which was promoted by the ECWT (European Centre for Women and Technology) and included Indra, Telefónica R+D, Ticjob and the Institute for Women and Equal Opportunities. The study sought to discover why there were so few women in ITC, as well as the possible solutions for the current situation. Taking part in the study were 1,370 professionals from the ITC field. The results were presented in June of 2015 at the Institute for Women and Equal Opportunities, and the complete report is titled Estudio sobre la escasa presencia femenina en el empleo tecnológico en España (“Study on the Limited Female Presence in Technological Employment in Spain”), by María Teresa Villalba de Benito and Luis Fernández-Sanz. Among the principal reason for the under-representation of women in the technological field, they stressed the prevalence of stereotypes: that this is a masculine, asocial profession, where there is a lack of information about the profession, starting in secondary school.
These findings coincide with studies from other countries in Europe and in the United States, and for this reason industry and government organizations are promoting initiatives so that women in science and engineering will take a step forward and provide more realistic role models for girls. The IT security sector needs continual change, which requires creativity, flexibility and innovative thought. This can be promoted through diversity, as advocated by Elizabeth Mannix and Margaret Ann Neale in a 2015 article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. The low proportion of women in the field represents a lost opportunity for industry.
Specifically, the European Union is prioritizing initiatives to close this STEM gender gap by promoting related research and innovation. Proof of this is the Be@CyberPro project that the EU recently accepted from Universidad Europea. The project seeks to promote careers in cyber security among young people and close the gender gap that exists today in a field that has a great demand for professionals and excellent prospects for the future, but which is principally occupied by men.
Taking part in the project are nine partners from four European countries, including universities, centers of excellence, companies and secondary education centers. The project carries out different actions to help young people study cyber security and make known the contributions that women can make to work teams. Among the principal actions: a virtual reality video game to show the different professions and thus eliminate stereotypes, and different initiatives to raise awareness among professors, educational centers, and families about how to promote gender equality in the sciences in general and in the IT in particular.
Bian, L., Leslie, S.-J., & Cimpian, A. (2017). Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests. Science, 355(6323), 389 LP-391. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6323/389.abstract
Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (2006). Diversity. Gender similarities in mathematics and science. Science (New York, N.Y.), 314(5799), 599–600. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1132154
Mannix, E., & Neale, M. A. (2005). What differences make a difference? The promise and reality of diverse teams in organizations. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 6(2), 32–55. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1529-1006.2005.00022.x
Villalba de Benito, M. T., & Fernández-Sanz, L. (2015). Estudio sobre la escasa presencia femenina en el empleo tecnológico en España: causas y acciones. Novática, (233), 8.