Digital Byte on the digital gender divide

This is the first in a series of monthly articles called “Digital Bytes” and published by the European Digital Education Hub. The articles aim to give an overview over the topic and answer basic questions about important issues in digital education. This month’s Digital Byte is about the digital gender divide and how it connects to education.

How big is the digital gender divide in EU?

Digital education is closely linked to digital skills and therefore also ICT (Information and Communications Technology). In recent years, the digital sector has been growing faster and needs more specialists than ever.

Currently, there are around 9 million ICT specialists all over the EU and less than a fifth of them are women.

The EU’s target for digital transformation, set out in a Digital Compass, requires having 20 million ICT specialists by 2030, with a more equal balance between men and women. However, there is still a long way to go. Even though 54% of all higher education students in the EU are womenthey only make up around 25% of all ICT students. In 2021, the number of female ICT graduates working in the sector was even lower, at only 19%. While there has been a slight increase in recent years (from 15% in 2015), it is a rather slow growth.

What’s causing the gap?

There are a variety of reasons for this digital gender divide. According to research the major causes include

  • an inherent gender bias in digital education
  • socio-cultural norms and stereotypes
  • a lack of female role models

For example, girls are told from an early age that boys are better at operating computers. This affects their confidence and self-efficacy immensely. Data from 2018 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that even girls who received the same kind of digital education as boys rate their own skills lower than their male counterparts.

Why we need to tackle digital gender divide

The current acceleration in digitalisation is unprecedented, especially in key areas such as big data, robotics, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that digital skills are essential for all kinds of work and affect our every-day lives.

Digital specialists are currently in high demand as digital is a critical future sector. However, despite this growing demand, women are only participating in low numbers because few pursue ICT studies.

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Source: European Commission I European Education Area (