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Strong women, get into IT!

“We don’t need balls, we have ponytails.” Right now, Germany is applauding its women’s national football team for these very words. In a TV advert for Commerzbank, the German women’s team take on all the clichés, preconceptions and hostilities they face each day with ease, irony and a sense of humour. From social media to local pubs, commenters have been known to call women’s football slow and boring, even going as far as to say that women should be having babies and cooking rather than out on the football pitch. You often feel like telling those loudmouths: “Seriously? It’s 2019!”

By Prof. Volker Gruhn

But what does women’s football have to do with the IT industry? Both are battling similar stereotypes, women are under-represented in both fields, and in many places it is hard to find female IT specialists, software developers or IT consultants. It is often forgotten that computer development and programming were considered typically female professions in the first half of the 20th century. Precision, patience and an eye for detail were all said to be female strengths. In recent decades, the image of IT jobs has become typically male. Today only one in seven applicants for IT specialist positions is female, and women currently make up just 17 % of IT specialists, according figures from the industry association Bitkom. And the situation is very similar when it comes to young talent, with women accounting for just 19 %of those completing IT degrees. Experts blame the status quo on outdated stereotypes and a lack of early support in schools. Experience shows that even talented female pupils lose their interest in technical subjects if they do not receive targeted support or are confronted with clichés that label them “unfeminine”.

A comparison with other countries reveals a fascinating truth: particularly in societies where women have little freedom and do not enjoy equal rights, many of them choose STEM careers. That is because a degree in a technical subject or IT promises advancement and prosperity.

What is the proportion of women working at adesso? To be honest, we are well within the German average when it comes to employing women. Just over 16 % of all software engineers, IT consultants and sales experts at adesso are female. We think that is far too few, which is why we have put together a compact bundle of measures. They range from school sponsorship and direct communication with the target group at universities and at trade fairs, to company tours for female students, internal company mentoring programmes and women’s networks.

We have also recruited Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the coach of the German women’s national football team, as an ambassador and to support us with our plans. She is a great example of achievement in a traditionally male sphere, making her a role model for young women. A balance between work and family life is also essential to allow women’s careers to thrive. That is why the corporate and political worlds must make them easier to combine. Necessary measures include flexible working arrangements and more childcare facilities. adesso, for example, offers parent-child offices at many of its locations, and employees have a right to what we call “regional part-time jobs”, which involve less travel. Staff members also benefit from additional paid leave when looking after sick children.

Should we fail to get more women into well-paid jobs, then the next generation could also be at increased risk of poverty, particularly when they retire. Today, three times more women than men work part time, and over their lifetimes women spend more than twice as long without paid work, usually because they are caring for children or relatives.

It is imperative that we rethink the current situation. But at least one thing has changed over the past three decades: When the German national women’s team won its first European Championship in 1989, the German Football Association (DFB) rewarded them in all seriousness with coffee sets featuring a floral pattern – something that would be unthinkable in 2019 were they to win the World Cup in France.

adesso wishes the team’s coach – the patron of its “Women in IT professions!” initiative – every success at the World Cup.

* Prof. Dr. Volker Gruhn co-founded adesso AG in 1997 and is now the Chairperson of the Supervisory Board. He is Head of the Software Engineering Department at University of Duisburg-Essen and has been a member of the University Council of Leipzig University since 1 March 2019.

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