October’s European Gender Equality Week aims to set a spotlight on the numerous unresolved issues for gender equality, such as employment, promotion opportunities and pay. However, these issues differ in seriousness by region. Some regions are closer to gender equality than others. This affects cohesion across European regions.

The digital transition adds new impetus for improving gender equality, besides the core issue of social justice. By 2030, Europe will need at least 20 million information and communication technology (ICT) experts to deliver the digital transformation of the European economy.

How and where the ICT sector expands will determine to a large extent future disparities in Europe. To forego tapping into the full potential of about half of the population is a waste. Europe dearly needs all bright minds, regardless of gender, to tackle the challenges ahead. Hence, it is worrisome that there is a substantial gap between men and women regarding participation in the digital economy.

Gender inequality is also economically costly. The European Commission estimated the productivity loss for the European economy caused by women leaving their digital jobs in 2018  at EUR 16.2 billion. With the digital transition, this number will likely increase. Reducing the shortage of ICT workers by increasing gender equality can also increase the EU employment growth rate from 2.1% to an estimated 3.5% by 2050.

In this blog post, we analyse the current status of gender equality in the ICT sector. We take a look ahead at gender equality in the years to come and discuss options to circumvent increasing disparities.

Significant differences in gender equality across European regions

Gender equality has several dimensions. To measure the most important, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) and DG Regio developed the Female Achievement Index, which includes seven domains: Work and money; knowledge; time; power; health; safety, security and trust; and quality of life. Generally speaking, the better a region performs in each domain, the better its overall performance.


The best-performing regions are in Scandinavia, the Western parts of Austria, Dublin, Luxembourg and Utrecht. Regions with the most significant gender inequality are found in Romania, Greece and Southern Italy.

Overall, there is substantial room for improvement on gender equality in the majority of European regions. Strikingly, the imbalance of regional economic development is closely correlated to women’s achievements.

Gender inequality in most countries when it comes to digital skills

Proficient digital skills are a prerequisite for actively participating in the digital economy and are thus key for the digital transition. However, there exist substantial differences between men and women across Europe: In Cyprus, Lithuania and Latvia, the number of women with above-basic overall digital skills exceeds that of men, with women with those skills outnumbering men by roughly 10 percentage points. France, Finland and Malta have almost the same percentage of men and women with above-basic overall digital skills,  implying close to gender parity.

Interestingly, the gap in proficient digital skills between men and women is particularly pronounced in Germany, Luxembourg, Austria and Denmark, which exhibit high scores in the Female Achievement Index. The digital transition in these countries might lead to increased gender inequality.

There are also substantial differences in the share of men with proficient digital skills ranging from less than 10 percent in Bulgaria and Romania to 60 percent in the Netherlands. However, there is no clear relationship between countries with a high share of men with proficient digital skills and those countries without.

Worrying gender inequality in key jobs to master the digital transition

When it comes to ICT specialists, the scarce resource that is needed to implement the digital transition, gender inequality is even higher. In all European countries, there are more male ICT specialists than female ones. The highest gaps between women and men occur in Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia.

The number of female ICT specialists is fewer than 20% of the number of male ICT specialists. On average, across EU countries, female ICT specialists are only 27% of the total number of male ICT specialists. In Romania, Bulgaria and Malta, the ratio of male to female ICT specialists is roughly 50%.

However, even in these countries, this is far from equality. The EU results align with the findings of the UN Women report that shows that women are underrepresented in ICT employment and, moreover, often employed in low-quality digital jobs.

Prospects on the future of gender inequality in ICT jobs

The situation of graduates is a good predictor for gauging future developments of the ICT gender gap. Countries with a high share of female ICT specialists exhibit higher gender equality among their ICT graduates.

However, in all European countries, more men than women still graduate in ICT-related studies, pointing to a continuing gender gap in ICT in the future. The gap is expected to widen, particularly in Slovakia, with one of the biggest gaps between males and females, both in current ICT specialists and in ICT graduates.

In countries such as Estonia and Sweden, the gender gap in ICT graduates is smaller than the gap in existing ICT specialists, which will be reflected in the ICT job market over time.

Improving gender equality for the digital transition

The underrepresentation of women in the ICT sector is a missed opportunity for Europe. And although both European and national policymakers have been working to improve gender equality, there are still substantial variations across European regions.

Subsequently, reducing the gender gap has huge potential for promoting regional development, boosting economic growth and, most importantly, socio-economic cohesion in the EU.

Europe’s digital transition adds an additional layer to the need for gender equality. If Europe wants to achieve its ambitious goals for the digital transition by 2030, efforts to activate every talent must be implemented so that firms and organizations across Europe can transform. If Europe is not improving in ICT gender equality, it will become increasingly difficult to keep up with other global players like the US, which puts more emphasis on establishing gender equality.

To narrow the gender gap, the EU and its Member States first need comprehensive and systematic measurements to understand the success or failure of its efforts to bridge the persistent gender gap, especially in the digital sphere. This is a prerequisite for developing more effective policies addressing the gender gap in the digital age.

When it comes to policies and initiatives aiming to increase gender equality in the digital sector, policymakers should be fully aware of the different stages in women’s lives that require different measures to promote gender equality: childhood, adolescence, entry into the workforce, motherhood and return to the labor market.

Both education and social awareness have been identified as key tools for promoting gender equality early on. At other stages, lifelong learning programs, such as providing mentorships and traineeships in ICT, could help reduce the gender gap. Last but not least, rethinking gender roles to inspire and support women taking up leadership roles, especially in tech companies, will further help reduce the ICT gender gap.

Numerous initiatives with goals like increasing the number of female ICT students are in place already. However, establishing gender equality to ease the implementation of the twin transition – will require even more effort.

Without this additional effort, Europe is going to pay a high price – in many dimensions including productivity development, economic growth and comparative advantage. To tackle both the digital transition and regional cohesion, Europe probably can not afford to pay this high price.

About the authors

Thomas Schwab is Project Manager for the Europe’s Future Program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. He applies a data-driven approach to economic analysis by employing data science and econometric methods.

Jiayu Yang supported the Europe’s Economy project as an intern in July and August 2022. He is currently pursuing a Master of Data Science for Public Policy degree at the Hertie School in Berlin.

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