Neelie Kroes: Show them what you’re made of

Highlight the groundbreaking work women are doing in ICT and the multi-layered, bullet-proof glass ceiling may be shattered yet, says Neelie Kroes.

Sometimes the progress of women in the world of information technology is like a variation of the Echternach procession: for every two steps forward you take three back.

The recent European Commission report ‘She figures’ shows that only 33% of European researchers are female. And only 20% of those hold a full time professorship. Although things are changing slowly, the number of women who choose a career in science still lags behind. The glass in the glass ceiling continues to be of the multi-layered and bullet-proof variety.


I recently wrote that I would like female ICT top talent to be more visible, not just to encourage girls to choose ICT as a career but to put the spotlight on the groundbreaking work women are doing in the field. The fact is women don’t like to brag, even if they work in ICT. What we need is inspiring examples. And we have them!

At the Phototonics21 event in Brussels I ran into Jana Huisman. At 15 she became the youngest Dutch Gymnasium student to graduate with honours. Pure curiosity prompted her to study Mathematics and Physics in Bonn. Last week she was asked to become an ambassador for photonics and inspire others to take an interest in the science.

Jana is fascinated by the possibilities of photons: they serve as information carriers, a source of energy and can also be used in medicine. From broadband to scanning equipment, photonics not only offers research opportunities but great career opportunities as well.


Other groundbreaking women are Joelle Frijters and Janneke Niessen, CEO and CIO of Improve Digital. The company helps media companies generate more money from online ads and is very good at it. It’s doing so well that Swiss publisher PubliGroupe bought an 85% interest in the company. This opens the door to a European alternative to Google and other big American players.

It wasn’t easy. Frijters’s started her business at age 23 against all advice while Niessen sold her flat to finance it. When they fell pregnant one after the other, they were asked if they would still be able to lead the company. It’s a question no prospective father would ever have to answer. It happened to me when I was a minister. I said I would only give my answer if my male colleagues were asked the same question. I’m still waiting.


Now that queen Beatrix has abdicated from her position of influence, we need new icons. The talent is there. But we also need a generation of men who want to share parenthood and work on an equal basis. It’s the only hope for change. It’s not only about what you tell your daughter, but also what you teach your son.

And while we are about it, let’s also change the hours of the childcare centres so 6.15pm isn’t the daily deadline for each parent and CEO.

Neelie Kroes is Euro Commissioner for the Digital Agenda.

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