Digital technology is a relatively young, rapidly-growing area, and yet so far women are still only playing a marginal role. Long committed to fighting for gender equality, La Poste – through Nathalie Collin, the Le Group La Poste Executive Vice President and head of digital technology and communication – is calling on women (and men) to not let a phenomenon commonplace in the labour market repeat itself here: the over-representation of men in high-potential sectors.
Many people claim – and the boom in the sector is currently proving them right – that digital technology is the future. And yet strangely, the number of women working in digital technology has halved in the past 30 years (see INSEE study). This leads us to a seemingly naïve question: why are women leaving the field free for men to decide the future?
You could say that they have no choice. That women face hurdles which discourage them from moving into the digital technology sector. The truth is that only 9% of start-ups are run or founded by women, and fact: they find it more difficult to secure funding. Some sort of exclusion is therefore likely to be involved…
But that doesn’t explain everything. Social stereotypes, shared by both men and women, have an effect on both genders’ career choices, providing encouragement on one side, and increasing (self) exclusion on the other.
These social stereotypes are founded on iconic figures such as the nerd popularised during the Eighties, of which a watered-down version is the modern-day geek. We also have the technophile, who shows little interest in their appearance, talks only to their peers...and is definitely not female. And yet it’s this type of person who has influenced the “standard” for the ubiquitous IT developer we see today, as well as forming a subliminal message for women: “this is not your world”.
If we could indulge in a game of word association for a moment, and ask ourselves what gender we would more readily ascribe words like virtual, immaterial, conceptual and abstract to, we start to understand why so few women go on to study physics, maths or computer science, at least in Europe and the USA (see UNESCO study).
Today, digital technology is a highly competitive battleground, in which women are still very much losing out despite having an important role to play: ensuring that the digital revolution empowers them and other forsaken minorities to make the digital world a true reflection of the real one. Young generations of women need to get into the digital sector and earn their place there. If they rally themselves, in this field as in so many others, then women will be the future of digital technology.
These social stereotypes are largely based on the idea that men and women are likely to have “natural” attitudes and inclinations, which may open or close the way to certain professions. For example, aggressiveness in men and self-control in women. When thought of in this way, it may seem quite “normal” that only 23% of traders are women. However, it is less clear why women account for only 30% of ambassadors. Possibly because nature has nothing to do with it, and this is just a way of legitimising a situation which has repeated itself since the dawn of time: when a profession or professional field seems promising in terms of financial or symbolic gain, men flood into it – and as soon as it doesn't live up to this promise they lose interest, thereby opening it up to women. This is similar to how, since women entered the labour market on a large scale, they have only occupied roles which men actually want to concede to them.
Nathalie Collin says as much when she urges women to get involved in digital technology, and make themselves heard once they are there. It is unacceptable for women to be shut out of a booming sector which is bringing about profound changes in society. We must sound the alarm, set an example, break down the stereotypes, and encourage women to play (their) part in determining the sector’s future.
To this end, two concrete steps towards promoting gender equality in digital technology were initiated at CES:
At every large digital technology event La Poste attends (CES 2019, Lab Postal, VivaTech), the group will put two projects submitted by women to the vote on the crowdfunding platform KissKissBankBank, and will provide 50% of the funds required by the winning project. Regarding CES 2019, you have until midnight on the 11 January to choose your favourite project.
The inaugural “Meeting of Women in Digital” took place on the 8 January at CES, in partnership with La Tribune. The next will take place in May 2018 in Paris. Meetings will be regular. The aim is to bring together women who work in the digital sector, entrepreneurs and any others involved in these areas to discuss a specific topic, with a special guest invited to each meeting.
These steps complement those which have already been taken in the form of two partnerships:
La Poste is a partner for the 3rd edition of the Madame Figaro “Business with Attitude” award which recognises creators of innovative companies. Claude Terosier, founder of Magic Makers, won the award in 2017 and was on the La Poste French IoT stand at CES 2019. The 2018 winner will be on the La Poste stand at VivaTech 2019.
La Poste is also a founding partner of the Femmes@Numérique foundation, which brings associations, companies and the French government together in promoting parity in all sectors of the economy, and more specifically in the areas of technology, the sciences and digital technology.
The commitment will continue with new initiatives:
Ensuring that 50% of the winners of the next French IoT contest are women.
Creating a Women in Digital Club at La Poste for women who either already work in the digital sector or who are interested in doing so.
Promoting the careers of women who are playing key roles in La Poste’s digital transformation.
Along with any other initiatives which may help to readjust the balance of women in the digital sector and pave the way for them to also have a say on the future of artificial intelligence, smart cities, e-health, smart homes...in short, on our future.