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Czech Republic tackles gender digital divide as part of EU presidency

Prague, Czech Republic – On July 1, the Czech Republic assumed its rotational six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union.

In the 13 years since the first Czech EU presidency, the world has embraced an ever-expanding range of technologies at a dizzying rate. Yet one constant unfortunately persists: the digital divide.

Around the world, the digital divide represents the gap between the availability of- and access to – information and communication technologies (IT/ICT).  It also determines who can use and develop the technologies that shape our lives and entire livelihoods.

Digital progress is a priority across Europe, but it comes with challenges for each country, and the Czech Republic is no exception.

The EU’s September 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) placed the Czech Republic 19th overall among the 27 EU Member States, and 15th in terms of human capital. The study showed that 60% of Czechs possess a minimum level of basic digital skills, compared to the EU average of 54%.

Czech schools lack the time, space, and resources to provide quality IT skills instruction, however. Outdated and inflexible approaches to learning and curriculum development hamper the best efforts to qualify and certify learners for digital skills.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, and employers thus face challenges in hiring qualified IT/ICT talent.

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.

Despite the high demand for IT workers and ICT specialists, many employers may be unable or unwilling to make the investments needed to train their existing workforce for current and emerging IT roles.

Without support or encouragement, it is often left up to individuals to attain or expand their IT skills on their own time and from their own pockets. In that regard, the options for quality and effective training in the Czech Republic remain limited.

Most Czech regions lack dedicated IT skills training programs, and where programs do exist, they are often not connected to job readiness and career development services. While for-profit training options and self-learning resources are available, the quality varies significantly, with costs and time requirements remaining an important barrier for many. The training resource gap exacerbates the IT skills gap in ways that prove difficult for communities to close.

The digital divide is not simply a matter of technology access and skills literacy; it is also one of equity and opportunity. For all the needs and challenges of employers to fill vital IT roles, there is a dearth of women in IT. 

Women and girls constitute 51% of the 10+ million Czech population. According to Eurostat, the Czech Republic ranks among the lowest European nations in terms of gender balance in technology with a reported 90% of IT specialist roles held by men.

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. Full-cycle underrepresentation of women in all aspects of IT impedes digital progress.

Closing the gender digital gap requires quality ICT/IT training and education for women and girls. This means reaching, engaging, and inspiring women from all walks of life and at all stages of their careers.

One of the leading catalysts for change is Czechitas, having supported more than 57,000 individuals through nearly 1,300 learning and training opportunities since 2014.

Working with more than 100 employers in nearly every region, Czechitas trains women for IT roles, connects them to job opportunities, and contributes to turning this market into a more diverse and inclusive environment. By 2025, Czechitas aims to ensure at least 30,000 women will be employed in IT roles.

Both the private and public sectors are increasingly recognizing the broader social and economic value of IT skills building for women. EU data estimates that 9 out of 10 future jobs will require digital skills, while almost 170 million Europeans between the ages 16 and 74 currently lack basic digital abilities for work and careers. The gap translates into nearly 1.7 million unfilled professional IT vacancies by 2025.

Social and economic resiliency grows when more women thrive. It is now time to center women and girls in order to reap the promises of the digital future.

During the first week of November 2022, the Czech EU Presidency convened a Czech Digital Week on areas of opportunity and concern such as digital education, the future of technology, and the state of online spaces.

Hosted cooperatively across the public, private, non-profit, and academic sectors, this demonstrated the collaborative spirit and power Czechs can bring to a challenge.

And while the digital skills gap influences the supply of ICT talent today, investments in women and girls determine the digital progress possible tomorrow.

By Ryan Turner

Ryan Turner is a development consultant and mentor at Czechitas, a Prague-based non-profit organization working to increase diversity in the IT world and fight for a higher level of digital proficiency among women and among young generations.