Women engineers & scientists in the digital economy and industry 4.0

15 Jun 2017 16:30h - 18:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

Ms Yvette Ramos (Secretary General, International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists (INWES) Europe), and Ms Pascale Fressoz (Director of Millenium Enterprises), co-moderated this workshop on women engineers and scientists.

Ramos gave a short introduction on what she understood by the ‘invisibility cloak’ in relation to the workshop topic. She noted that many women hold degrees in science and engineering and MBAs, but they are not visible in the media, in decision-making and power arenas, as well as in industry and science – 28.4% of women researchers worldwide is not enough as they represent more than a half of the population. Ramos then introduced INWES, its history, aim, and values.

Dr Sarah Peers (Vice-President of Women’s Engineering Society (WES, UK)), gave a keynote speech on the state of gender in this world of technology and how we can bridge the divide. First, she provided a retrospective on the issue of women in computer science – ‘women were used as human computers, rooms full of women for calculating’ – and they were very powerful, but largely invisible as ‘hidden figures’ like the black women who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the 1950s and 1960s. Today the proportion of women to men is even smaller now than it used to be. There are very small numbers of women in software and hardware development, as well as in project management or user interface design.

Peers suggested raising awareness on this issue. In developed countries, it is a question of access to education, senior roles, and investment to make sure that women may become creators of technology. Technology development and innovation are still a ‘boys’ club’. It is even worse: there are 250 million fewer women than men online [International Telecommunication Union (ITU) statistics]. Peers stressed the importance of developing the digital literacy of girls and women, because access to technology will provide them with opportunities to start their education in ICT, too. We need to give women competences, skills, and access to the Internet and technology. Moreover, we need to ensure that women are not just users of technology, but that they create technology.

Fressoz continued the workshop, starting the moderated discussion between the panellists and the audience. At the beginning, she pointed to the importance of innovation management to the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs) Nos 5, 9 and 10.

Ms Lorraine Mc Dowell (President, Elargis Tes Horizons project, Switzerland), talked about the presence of women in science and the necessity for inspiration by example to think about other kinds of education and careers, different from their traditional occupations – ‘we could show a girl how it is possible to do a PhD, have a family and go into a very high level job’. Mc Dowell shared the example of workshops organised by her project where girls were presenting their experience and inspiring others.

Ms Betty Bonnardel-Azzarelli (president of the Society of Satellite Professionals UK), stressed that it is not enough to be a member of empowering organisations for women. Mentorship of different kinds – such as speed mentoring, reverse mentoring, mentor set – is one of the ways to realise women’s potential, mutually. She is now working on a mentorship scheme that will expand beyond the UK borders.

Dr Salma Abbasi (Chairperson and CEO, eWorldwide Group), talked about the biggest challenge that woman face today – the perception of engineering and IT as boring subjects. Parents and teachers should break that perception and show that these fields are interesting for girls too. The other challenge is the woman herself – she does not see a place for herself in this career track despite the fact that she may have the relevant education. Abbasi argued women are ‘naturally fantastic engineers and problem-solvers because we are multi-tasking, we can see in three dimensions, we can conceptualise’.

Ms Florence Coulin (biologist & consultant in neuro-education & neuro-management, CEO at ATP Consulting), said – ‘we are our worst enemies, because we are stuck in the belief that we cannot reach certain level of expertise’. Women’s positions are considered to be less valuable, with lower responsibilities, salary, and recognition. Her goal as business coach is to push through this belief. Coulin mentioned that this ‘block’ nestled in our brains, and it had been proved by scientists that physiological traumas leave traces on the human’s DNA. She called for getting rid of that block and urged women to work on their self-esteem, confidence and to behave ‘out of the box’.

The workshop continued with comments and questions from the audience on issues of how to further women’s careers after their graduation, recruitment expectations on the same position by men and women, and so forth.


by Ilona Stadnik