Gender gap persists in Emerging Europe’s industries of the future

Gender gap persists in Emerging Europe’s industries of the future
Women make up 40% of the 4.3mn-strong workforce in the solar PV industry. / bne IntelliNews
By Clare Nuttall in Glasgow March 8, 2023

The gender gap in the workplace is smaller in some Central and Southeast European countries than in their Western counterparts, yet it persists. Moreover, data from what can be considered the industries of the future namely tech and green energy also shows that women are underrepresented. 

Overall employment in both sectors is set to grow over the coming decades. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated in 2020 that the green energy sector could create as many as 42mn jobs by 2050. 

Meanwhile, the IT sector is also expanding. Within the EU, employment for IT professionals is projected to grow by 11% over the period 2018 to 2030, but even faster outside the bloc as ICT technical skills are increasingly outsourced to cheaper locations. 

Across most of Emerging Europe, women have a relatively strong starting point when it comes to finding jobs in these industries. One legacy of the communist era is that even while women were encouraged to enter traditionally male-dominated industries in large numbers, nonetheless, there was still a substantial gender gap. 

ICT gender gaps

Looking at employment in the ICT sector within the EU, data from 2021 shows the difference between the share of women employed in ICT and the share of men is smallest in Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Malta and Croatia, according to the latest WiD scoreboard.

Almost one third of ICT sector employees in Romania and Bulgaria are women, some of the highest levels across the EU, and around one quarter in Croatia and the Baltic States, which compares favourably with the average for the bloc. 

Share of women working in the ICT sector in EU member states in 2021. bne IntelliNews calculations based on WiD Scorecard data. 

On the other hand, the lowest shares of women working in the ICT sector are in Central Europe's Visegrad Four states, at under one fifth of employees. 

In terms of the total number of women employed in ICT as a share of the workforce, Sweden, Finland, Malta, Estonia and Ireland come out on top but most of these have considerably higher numbers of men employed in the industry as well. 

Today, a number of countries in the region have strong tech sectors, helped by the tradition of strong science and tech education. Relatively low costs and proximity both geographic and cultural to Western Europe made them attractive destinations for international IT companies. This helped the evolution of local startups too, some of which have grown into internationally-recognised unicorns. 

Green energy of the future 

The green energy sector is projected to grow even more strongly over the coming decades, as the already pressing imperative to fight climate change was given additional impetus by the disruptions Russia’s war in Ukraine caused to traditional energy industries. 

The global energy crisis has led already to a significant increase in the adoption of renewable power, says a report by the IEA. The total capacity growth of renewable power worldwide is expected to nearly double over the next five years, surpassing coal as the primary source of electricity generation.

Women are underrepresented in the energy sector as a whole, and don’t fare much better in the new renewable segments. 

A 2019 study commissioned by the European Parliament, “Women, Gender Equality and the Energy Transition in the EU 2019”, identifies gender inequalities preventing women from the involvement in the energy transition and career advancement in this area. According to the study, “the energy sector is influenced by a set of persistent gender inequalities”. 

These inequalities are related to gender gaps in energy access, labour market, education and decision-making. Women are underrepresented in the energy labour market, constituting only 35% of the European workforce in the renewable energy sector in 2016. Furthermore, there is a gender gap in energy-related education, with only 11% of women compared with 22% of men in the 22-29 age group having graduated in science and technology in the European Union in 2012. Finally, women are also underrepresented in decision-making positions within the energy sector, indicating that more efforts are needed to achieve gender equality in this field.

Overall, the energy sector remains one of the most gender-imbalanced sectors globally and within the European Union, which is blamed on a combination of structural and cultural barriers. 

Gender diversity in the energy sector. Source: IEA. 

The situation is somewhat more equal in renewables and especially in the solar PV industry, where women make up 40% of the 4.3mn-strong workforce, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) from September 2022. 

This is almost double the share of women employed in the wind industry (21%) and the oil and gas sector (22%).

IRENA highlights the need for equal opportunities for women in technical positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and in other professional fields. It identifies the most prominent barriers as perceptions of gender roles, lack of fair and transparent policies, and cultural and social norms.

“A just and inclusive energy transition is not only about energy access. It is about making sure everyone is included and benefits from the process,” says Francesco La Camera, director-general of IRENA. 

“The findings of our new report are promising and confirm renewable energy’s great potential as an equal employer, but they also signal the need to step up our efforts to pave the way for more women to lead the energy transition and shape our shared future.”

STEM studies 

Eurostat reported in 2022 that the number of female scientists and engineers in the EU rose by 254,500 to almost 6.6mn in 2020. They represented 41% of total employment in science and engineering. 

The manufacturing sector had low female representation, with only 22% of scientists and engineers being women, while the services sector had a more balanced gender ratio at 46%. 

Female representation in science and engineering varied greatly among EU member states, ranging from 52% in Lithuania, Portugal and Denmark to 30% in Finland and 31% in Hungary. In 11 EU regions, female scientists and engineers were in the majority, such as Lithuania (52%), North and South-East Bulgaria, Eastern Poland (both 57%), Northern Sweden (56%), as well as Lithuania and Denmark (both 52%). On the other hand, the regions with the smallest proportion of female scientists and engineers were Baden-Württemberg in Germany and Transdanubia in Hungary (both 29%).

Proportion of women scientists and engineers in EU regions. Source: Eurostat. 

More women than men have completed tertiary education in the EU, according to Eurostat, with larger numbers of women in all countries except Germany. While there is still a gender difference in the subjects people study, the number of women studying in STEM fields across most of the EU is increasing.