We live in extraordinary times. We have been transformed. The acceleration of digitalisation is here to stay. But there are issues of general interest that do not seem to be evolving as fast as we would like. We are talking about the presence of women in the technological and scientific sector, which continues to be one of the great challenges of today’s society. In fact, during the pandemic, efforts to reduce the gender gap came to a standstill and many women were forced to leave their jobs due to the difficulty of achieving a work-life balance. While it is true that the offshoring of talent through teleworking presents a great opportunity for the presence of women in the technological and scientific sector, there is still much to be done in this regard.
It would be necessary to analyse the presence of women in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers in Mediterranean countries in order to have a more accurate picture of the context. First of all, what we find is a huge difference between the countries located on the European continent and those on the African continent. The economic and social situation, political instability, the discrimination suffered by African women, the war or conflicts in countries such as Syria, Libya or Lebanon, for example, are some of the causes that mark this enormous difference.
According to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, UIS, only 30% of researchers and scientists worldwide are women, a figure that shows the huge gap that exists, but also the unequal evolution between countries. What is also a reality is that the percentage of women entering science, technology and mathematics careers is much lower than that of men. In this sense, UIS is working on the search for more specific indicators to determine the causes, which include the family environment, discrimination and the work culture.
If we look at countries such as Morocco, according to the Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation, the literacy rate of Moroccan women is only 55.9%. However, in the 12 Moroccan public universities, female representation in STEAM degrees is relevant.
Turning to Europe, data from the Statistical Office of the European Union show that women’s enrolment in engineering and science degrees is still a minority. It is worth noting the presence of women in other fields such as business, health and education.
As we can see in the graph above, in 2018 in Spain, the percentage of female graduates in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, with respect to the total number of graduates, was 2.6%, compared to 4.1% in the European Union. Meanwhile, the percentage of female graduates in Information and Communication Technologies is below 1%. There are big differences if we compare the university branches, and there is no doubt that it is essential to be able to compare ourselves with the countries around us (better positioned) and implement public policies with the European funding currently available (Next Generation Funds) in the Mediterranean countries to promote STEAM professions. Moreover, in this way, we will respond to the high demand for jobs related to Big Data, IoT, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, etc. and we will reduce the high unemployment rates. Big challenges offer big opportunities.
If we also analyse the state of the technological and scientific market, the figures reveal that the position of women is still stagnant in Spain. We continue to be below the European average and even further behind the Baltic countries where women dominate the sector (especially in Latvia, with a representation of 59% in 2020). In Cyprus, female representation is 53%.
The governments’ strategy aims to achieve a balanced presence of women and men, as well as to avoid bias and discrimination of any kind, through the development of plans focused on the needs of all people, and to improve the visibility of women scientists, as well as their contributions to all areas of knowledge in order to promote STEAM vocations from an early age. France, in particular, spends €49 billion on research, i.e. 2.2% of its GDP.
However, female researchers face countless adverse circumstances for the performance of their skills in the labour market, in addition to those inherent to the sector. Therefore, employability in most cases is subject to international mobility and access to public research centres, universities and employment contracts for the development of R&D activities in the business sector.
According to the latest data from the INE’s Statistics on Research and Development Activities, the total number of research personnel in Spain is 143,974 people on a full-time equivalent (57,380 women and 86,594 men). Female scientists represent 40% of the total. Compared with Morocco, the total number of doctoral students is 2,192, of whom 859 are women (39%).
The precarious employment of research staff has a negative impact on the development of women’s professional careers, the evolution of their scientific careers and their full participation and contribution to research in our country. It is essential to design a new employment model for research personnel that is capable of providing greater stability and economic conditions that are more in line with the effort required.
Quantitatively, the relevance of women in the technological and scientific sector has a long way to go. A collective effort is required from public entities, universities, educational centres, large companies, SMEs, citizens and families to promote the real empowerment of women.
Aware of this, the European Parliament has established that, by 2026, women should occupy 40% of management positions in companies. In other words, the law will oblige large listed companies in the European Union to take measures by July 2026 to increase the presence of women in management positions.
We should also remember that the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes gender equality and empowering women and girls in its goal 5.
On the other hand, there are various initiatives at the educational level, such as STEM TALENT GIRL, which aims to promote scientific and technological vocations among young women, raising awareness of the professions of the future, those most in demand in the market and the most transformative. On another level, we would also like to highlight the work being done by the Women for Africa Foundation with the implementation of “training, dissemination and technology transfer activities, supporting the leadership of African women scientists and strengthening the N.O.W. IS Africa”. A total of 26 African women scientists, including women from Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, will benefit from the “They do research” programme in this year’s edition.
In addition, there are professional working groups, such as ” Women engineers in network “, of the Official Association of Technical Engineers of Telecommunications that promote the visibility of women engineers as a source of inspiration in all social sectors.
Fortunately, we have identified our challenges as a society. Now it is time to implement a global action plan with coordination and coherence of the entire ecosystem involved in order to achieve levels of excellence and address the particularities of each of the Mediterranean countries.