Innovation continues to grow and benefit all areas of the Czech economy and society.
Companies and the private sector seek competitive advantages in their technology systems and processes. The public sector improves its capacity to deliver digital services to people and communities. But without talented workers and a skilled workforce able to sustain and grow innovation, all sectors lose. Women’s digital potential is essential for the digital economy to thrive.
Improved access, slow progress
The world of IT can offer anyone as many opportunities as they can handle. The entry points to IT should be as numerous as any individual’s talents and interests. To be sure, women in IT do exist. Their numbers are increasing, slowly but surely. Their collective voices and visibility are growing in influence. Yet for every success, there are scores of frustrated talents seeking their point of entry. The sad truth is that tech talent is trained and hired according to rules reinforced by biases and perpetuated by those who have both the most to gain and the most to lose from the status quo
All sectors require people who know IT and who understand its transformative potential. Research shows that teams of different ethnicities, races, genders, and ages produce better results. Diverse workplace teams benefit from the mix of life and work experiences. Inclusive teams yield solutions of better and lasting quality.
The increasingly rapid development of new products and services is reducing technical barriers to entering the IT field. From systems that can teach children as young as age 4, to programs that can train people over age 40, all it takes is the desire to learn and the ability to access training. Fascination with the field, and motivation to learn, are important. And IT, by necessity as much as design, entails a lot of learning.
But despite extensive efforts, progress is still slow in growing the representation of certain groups within key IT roles and functions. And for the Czech Republic, the largest and most significant underrepresented groups in IT are women.
Czech gender digital divide
The World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report ranks the Czech Republic 76th out of 146 countries. More than 55% of graduates from tertiary education are women, yet they represent only 36% of graduates in STEM fields and only 16% of graduates in ICT programs. The report also found that the Czech Republic has a gender pay gap of over 12%. Tellingly, just 23% of corporate boards include women, only 16% of firms have female majority ownership, and 16% have women in top management roles.
A 2021 Coding Bootcamp Prague/Techloop survey found that while nearly 320,000 IT specialists work in the Czech Republic, the tech sector still lacks 14,000 professionals. The same survey found 79% of employers face difficulties in filling IT/ICT vacancies, constraining the speed and quality of the country’s digital transformation.
But according to Eurostat data, only 19.1% of all European tech professionals are women, while only one in ten IT professionals in the Czech Republic is female. What gives?
The Czech gender digital divide is not about access to technology infrastructure or lack of interest in IT. Instead of a single abstract barrier, a number of simultaneous dynamics are in play.
- Limited access to suitable education and quality training that builds upon interests across multiple disciplines;
- Stereotypes and biases preventing women and girls from envisioning themselves in IT roles, reinforced by cultural perceptions dismissing the value of technology studies and careers as a means to personal fulfillment or professional success;
- Confidence gaps for girls and young women in classroom environments favoring more-experienced learners (typically boys), as well as for women seeking to enter or advance in the workplace;
- Lack of belonging, peer encouragement, mentoring, and support, particularly in learning and workplace settings where sexism, unwanted attention, or constraints on personal and professional development remain unchallenged;
- Feeling undervalued in their skills and talents as women and girls, particularly when they constantly need to prove themselves and maintain their dignity against those who continuously dismiss their abilities.
From families to communities, from academia to the workplace, culture, and practice reinforces stereotypes around girls and women on every level. The expectations and assumptions of others greatly influence what girls and women think of and want for themselves.
Girls and women are constantly reminded to stay in their lane and stick to the interests expected of them. Should they dare express both interest and natural talent in technology, they are considered second-class participants in a world dominated by those who do not want others to gain access to IT pathways.
Stereotypes and biases are a natural part of being human. Most of the time, our mental shields benefit us as a means of protection, caution, and certainty. But our lenses and filters can also generate prejudices and hostilities towards others who are different. They make us see some people as less talented in certain areas, and others as less deserving of certain opportunities. Our shields, when wielded negatively, also prevent us from seeing our own value as individuals, and our own obligations as part of communities.
Women on the tech margins
Research shows that once a certain ratio of men and women in IT fields is established, that ratio is difficult to shift. The harder it is to fill the shortage of IT workers, the more prestigious IT roles become. With higher prestige comes higher salary demands relative to the average wage. Thus IT roles become more attractive to people with greater drive and more elusive to those who don't believe they have what it takes to succeed. For men, this is often encouraging and interesting. For women, it has the opposite effect— especially if there are few women in the field. Even when women show better prerequisites for working in IT, they too often opt not to go in that direction.
Ultimately, asking “Why are there not more women in tech” becomes a tiring, repetitive, and distracting exercise that only serves to shift the blame onto women themselves for their relative “absence” in spaces where they’re already attempting to establish themselves and make paths for others.
Why can we not instead ask “What barriers exist for women and girls, and how we can collectively remove those barriers?”
Change and progress
While the Czech gender IT gap is real and remains a problem, there are also encouraging signs toward progress.
Since 2014, Czechitas has helped 60,000+ women to grow their tech skills and 1000+ women to change their career paths. The community of 1000+ extend team members and volunteers have provided some 1300 learning opportunities, primarily for women and girls who are very often later technology adopters or career changers. More than 100 companies and firms currently partner with Czechitas, demonstrating their commitment to developing women’s digital skills and tech leadership among their existing workforces and prospective employees.
Czechitas’s signature program, Digital Academy (DA), provides high-quality intensive retraining courses focused on high-demand fields like data analytics, software testing, front-end web development, and cybersecurity.
Each Digital Academy cohort runs for a period of 3-4 months, depending on the theme. During that time, learners progress from introductory hands-on classes to individual projects and supplemental coursework. They participate in a Demo Night and/or Hackathon event to showcase their individual projects. Throughout their learning journey, each learner benefits from career consultations, professional excursions, and practice job interviews. Professional coaches, lecturers, trainers, and mentors play an active role in each DA cohort experience. At the conclusion of their cohort experience, DA graduates are honored at a community Gala event.
Digital Academy graduates have the opportunity to start in a junior position, with the chance to enter the IT world and grow in their careers. Program alumni can connect their experience and knowledge with IT technologies in ways that bring added value to potential employers. Critically, this training takes place in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate the schedules of all types of learners.
Czechitas gives women and girls the incentive to try IT. We remove the fear, uncertainty, and doubt associated with trying something new. We increase women’s confidence in themselves as they embrace their digital potential. Most importantly, we provide a safe and supportive space with engaged peer networks of women experiencing changes in their lives and circumstances. These elements are critical for attracting women to learn technical IT skills and ensure that they sustain long-term interest in IT fields.
And yet, more is still needed.
What we must do
The foundation that supports all Czechitas activities is a commitment to building and sustaining an inclusive community of learning. All participants and graduates are connected to tech professionals who serve as lecturers, trainers, coaches, course facilitators, and mentors. Men play a significant role as allies, influencers, and advocates across the community and within their respective workplaces and networks. This shared vision of success demonstrates that the desire to support and empower women and girls in IT is strong and growing in the Czech Republic.
From initial curiosity to devoted studies, girls need and deserve learning experiences and opportunities that build upon their interests, enhance their gifts, and stoke their creativity in order for IT to make a positive and relevant impact in their lives. From first-time jobs to leadership and entrepreneurial roles, women must have the training, encouragement, and support to succeed in IT at all stages of their lives and careers.
Too often, truly talented people are overlooked and underserved because their talent is waiting to flourish. No matter where or how or when one starts in IT, it is possible to go as high and as far as one chooses— so long as artificial barriers are not erected. We cannot afford division. We cannot sustain exclusion. We all deserve the opportunity to learn IT skills and apply them in our lives, our studies, and our livelihoods. There is no such thing as a second-class citizen when it comes to IT talents.
Every learner, no matter their background or circumstances, needs and deserves an inclusive environment in which they are appreciated, valued, and supported. Building inclusion must begin with foundations rooted in trust and respect.
Barriers to learning, engagement, and participation do not suddenly appear overnight or out of thin air. And there are no quick fixes to diversity, particularly concerning gender. The long and hard work of active and intentional inclusion and engagement of women in ICT requires open and honest and sometimes difficult communication about challenging themes. It also involves personal and professional reflection about the ways we work and learn, and the systems we want to build for shared success.
We must abandon outdated thoughts and outmoded assumptions regarding the digital potential of women and girls. Stereotypes and prejudices benefit no one. Devoting time and thought to the qualities that make us unique while connecting us to others empowers us to imagine and achieve the impact we seek for the world we want. But we must also accept mistakes by others and ourselves as an essential part of that journey. Acceptance, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, empathy, and compassion must replace an all-too-easy punitive vocabulary of biases and shame.
If we abandon the “right way to do IT”, more pathways into tech can emerge. If we build more alternatives for learning and training digital skills, women will bring their curiosity and enthusiasm to all areas of technology at every level.
The curiosity that fuels women and girls’ desire to learn IT can also drive efforts to bridge gaps in IT representation and participation. Asking serious and meaningful questions regarding who’s missing in technology— and why— informs better thinking and sustained committed action to inclusive approaches at all levels of education, training, recruiting, hiring, retention, and leadership.
Amplifying women’s digital potential means understanding and connecting myriad individual interests and motivations to empower women of all abilities and talents. Building upon diversity establishes new narratives for women and girls to learn and work in IT. These narratives will resonate in ways that are more relevant and credible for girls and women at every stage of their personal growth and professional development.
Trust and respect for others of all skills and abilities are a manifestation of confidence and empathy in ourselves towards others. It also signals our personal desire to grow, to connect with others, share experiences, and encourage all talents to thrive.
By expanding the horizons for what is possible in work and life through IT, women and girls will embrace learning opportunities and career possibilities they might otherwise ignore or dismiss. As curiosity and optimism replace fear, uncertainty, and doubt, we will achieve a digital future that benefits people and communities more widely.
Any efforts to encourage more women in the IT sector cannot make a difference unless society, the educational system, and corporate environments all welcome and support change. Only then can women and girls truly become the engineers and architects of the digital future.
This post is sponsored by AT&T Foundation under the Women Digital Potential awareness campaign for Czechitas.