The gender digital divide reflects the barriers women and girls face in developing and applying their IT skills. What does it mean for the Czech Republic?

Digital progress as a priority

On 1 July 2022, the Czech Republic assumed the rotational six-month presidency of the Council of the Europe Union. The Council, which serves as the collective voice of EU member governments, is charged with adopting EU laws and coordinating EU policies. Alongside the European Parliament, the Council stands as the EU's main decision-making institution. 

Taking the reins from France, the Czech Republic will now carry the responsibility for determining the course of the Council regarding EU legislation; ensuring continuity of the EU agenda and budget; orderly legislative processes and cooperation among the Member States; and representing the Union's interests in international affairs.

Echoing former President Vaclav Havel in the motto— 'Europe as a task: rethink, rebuild, repower'— the Czech presidency has articulated five main policy priorities:  (1) managing the refugee crisis and Ukraine's post-war recovery; (2) energy security; (3) strengthening Europe's defense capabilities and cyberspace security; (4) strategic resilience of the European economy; and (5) resilience of democratic institutions. While each of these entails a large set of challenges, this period also presents a unique opportunity to highlight Czech domestic concerns within a global context to a wider audience of stakeholders.

In the 13 years since the Czech Republic's first EU Presidency, the world has embraced an ever-expanding range of technologies. It is easy to take for granted smartwatches, personal robots, and consumer drones around us today that did not exist back then. MOOCs  (Massive Open Online Courses), much like the concept of social media influencers, only came into popular awareness within the past decade. Advanced 3D cinema, AR, and aerospace design have continued to evolve rapidly as well.

Yet for all the advancements technology has made around the world, one constant unfortunately persists: the digital divide.

The digital divide is also a gender divide

At its core, the digital divide represents the differences in the availability of— and access to— information and communication technologies. Despite the seeming ubiquity of devices and services, not all technologies are the same in terms of quality, speed, function, reliability, or affordability. These differences, in turn, determine the level of knowledge and use of ICT.

Beyond issues of access and availability rest larger questions regarding who creates and uses the technologies that shape our lives and work. This opens up deeper concerns regarding the abilities to develop skills, and the opportunities to apply those skills in a constantly changing digital world. This is especially true concerning gender.

According to UNESCO, women and girls are 25% less likely than men to know how to leverage digital technology for basic purposes, 4 times less likely to know how to program computers, and 13 times less likely to file for a technology patent.

The gender digital divide underscores the barriers women and girls face in developing and applying their IT skills. It is not only a matter of digital literacy but also one of digital opportunity. By every metric, nearly every nation on the planet has yet to achieve full gender parity concerning ICT use, digital skills, and meaningful tech engagement for women and girls.

Digital barriers remain for women and girls  in the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic can be proud of a stable society, thriving economy, good quality of life, solid ICT infrastructure, and a strong culture of innovation.  Firms are hiring at a steady pace, particularly for more jobs that demand IT skills. Most employers, however, still struggle with finding qualified candidates for these roles. And many candidates, particularly women, are routinely excluded from consideration. 

According to Eurostat data, the Czech Republic ranks among the lowest concerning women working in IT fields. Women and girls constitute 51% of the 10+ million population. Yet they are severely underrepresented in all areas of work, including IT fields; 90% of Czech technology specialists are men. Lack of skills, lack of confidence, and social/cultural assumptions prevent women from success in their jobs and careers. And while maternity leave is among the most generous in the world (6 years on average), mothers effectively can not enter, re-enter or stay active in the Czech job market without IT skills. 

Despite the high demand for IT workers and ICT specialists, employers in the Czech Republic continue to face challenges in recruiting and retaining talent. Women seeking to develop and advance their careers understand and value the importance of IT skills. Yet the options for quality and effective training in the Czech Republic remain limited. While for-profit IT training services exist, the quality varies significantly. And their high cost and time requirements pose a high cost for many. 

Czech schools lack the time, space, and resources to provide quality STEM and IT instruction. Outdated and inflexible approaches to learning and curriculum development hamper the best efforts to qualify and certify learners for digital skills. Fewer graduates from technical universities pursue advanced studies, much less seek to fill a large number of tech vacancies across industries and sectors. This is particularly damaging to young people who want to work and contribute to society. But it is even worse for girls and women who face structural and cultural barriers to training that boys and men do not. 

Closing the gender digital divide in the Czech Republic, and globally, requires quality ICT/IT training and education for women and girls

An estimated 90% of all future jobs will require some level of IT/ICT skills. How the world addresses women's digital needs and digital potential will determine the degree to which economies and societies will truly thrive.

Most Czech regions lack dedicated tech training programs and resources —especially rural areas tied to traditional industries. This gap hits people on the economic margins of society especially hard. It also results in an increasing IT skills gap that is difficult for communities to close. 

Women are also routinely denied access to resources and capital that fully enable them to thrive as tech founders and IT leaders. This underrepresentation of women in IT industries is a loss for societies and economies transitioning towards a digital future.

Bridging the gender digital gap means actively recruiting and retaining women in ICT/IT jobs at all levels across industries and sectors. Eliminating gender digital barriers means ensuring that women and girls can (and do) shape the tools, platforms, services, and spaces that affect their lives and livelihoods. 

Czechitas empowers women to embrace their digital potential

The first celebration of Ada Lovelace Day convened in October 2009, the same year as the Czech Republic's first EU Presidency. Suw Charman-Anderson organized the initial celebration in the UK as a response to the absence of women in tech industry conferences, She asserted that the issue was not simply a lack of women who attend or speak in tech spaces. The concern was the overall invisibility of women— institutionally and systemically— reinforced in all spaces where tech is developed, discussed, and deployed. In the years since, countless other efforts around the world have continued to raise the profile of women in STEM. They also continue to inspire women and girls of all backgrounds and interests to study and work and succeed in IT fields.

In that same spirit, Czechitas embraces the power of women and technology for a better society, a stronger economy, and connected communities. As an organization, a community, and a movement, we strive to ensure that all women in the Czech Republic can truly realize their digital potential toward their professional lives and personal ambitions. Success here depends on the empowerment, participation, and representation of all women through every digital means possible.

This post is sponsored by AT&T Foundation under the Women Digital Potential awareness campaign for Czechitas.