Mar 6, 2012

Innovations by, with and for women

By Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Comission

If Steve Jobs had been a woman, millions of girls and women might have a different attitude to technology today, both towards careers in technology and life as an entrepreneur. Of course many women were inspired by Steve Jobs anyway —his gender didn't change his greatness—. But it is striking that very few of the recent technology gurus —the people who built global empires out of nothing but their ideas— have been women. It's not because there aren't great women —we've even seen them lead major tech companies— but it shows us the digital world is underperforming compared to its potential.

There are role models out there we can do more to support, and I've had the pleasure to meet some of them, people like Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg or the UK's Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox. But we shouldn't just focus on today or on one or two names. Women have a great technology story: too many forget the first ever computer programmer was Ada, the Countess Lovelace in the 19th century. And the way forward is to get millions of women interested in technology, not to get one global technology company led by a woman.

«Demand for ICT professionals outstrips supply, and with women underrepresented in this sector means we need to ensure they feel careers in this sector are good options for them»

At a time when millions need jobs, there is one sector where demand outstrips supply: ICT professionals. With women underrepresented in ICT, that means we need to do much more to ensure women feel training and careers in technology are good options for them.

We must shatter the image that ICT is about geeks programming complex code in their lonely bedrooms. Not very attractive for many girls and women —or men! The image is not helpful and it's not true. These days, ICT is not just about coding, it's about connecting and creativity. It's not just about competitive games, winning, violence; it's about innovation, sharing and learning. Its not about judging new devices on their vital statistics, on how big your RAM is or how powerful your ROM; its about how sleekly they are designed, how easy they are to use, how attuned to what ordinary people actually need.

Second, I know a lot of women are concerned about work-life balance. A perfectionist like Steve is not a realistic role model then for most women. But for nearly everyone technology can help you work better around your family and social needs. That's true whether you are using e-Bay to set up a home business, a smartphone to send emails while looking after a sick child, or using Skype to meet colleagues from the comfort of your living room.

«By creating material that is of interest to women, and letting women create stuff for themselves, we can really show everyone that ICT is for them»

From another angle, we should value role in the ICT user community, and respect women as a market for ICT products and services. By creating material that is of interest to women —and letting women create stuff for themselves— we can really show everyone that ICT is for them. Women and families are increasingly the customers for the products of new technology. Tech-enabled wonders like Toy Story —which, of course, Steve was involved in— certainly keeps my grandkids happy. The modern internet can also offer safe online playgrounds for kids: somewhere where they can learn and play, create and connect with friends and family. Plus more and more sites —such as bloggers' networks like the English language Mumsnet— are targeted at and used by women.

Here there is a virtuous circle: because the more women see the online world as for them, the more they'll want to get involved in that designing —and the more they'll see ICT as something that needs and welcomes them—. Then we'll really see more innovations that are by women, with women and for women.


  1. Very very interesting...and I guess returning to the beginning "If Steve Jobs had been a woman"...probably Steve Jobs would have never been a woman if we keep the same kind of education and parents and also teachers don´t include the rights and gender perspective,