23-year-old Friederike Fischer was never much of a computer fan, though she always enjoyed maths at school. After finishing her exams, she was not sure at first what she wanted to study, but finally decided to take a degree in computer engineering at Technische Universität Berlin. An unusual choice: “There were just five of us women when we began the course – out of some 100 freshers.”
Fischer is now specialising in robotics. In Germany, women like her are still something of a rarity. Very few girls who leave school ever consider working in the IT sector, with the result that the proportion of women working in German IT companies was just 15 percent in 2015. Women are also underrepresented when it comes to launching start-ups.
So how can this be changed? For years, politicians, research institutions and schools have been trying to attract more women to the sector. There are national initiatives that promote mathematics, engineering and science, such as Komm, mach MINT, as well as career networks like Femtec. Bitkom, the industry association, has launched a project by the name of Role Models. “Examples of successful company founders, consultants, scientists and IT specialists in the digital domain are intended to encourage young women to pursue a career in IT”, explains a spokesperson.
The job prospects are amazing in Germany, a place where high tech is taken very seriously. There are currently around 40,000 unfilled positions in the IT sector, and there is an urgent need for women to enter the profession. The proportion of women among those beginning a degree in computer science is at least increasing slowly, and has now reached roughly 25 percent. Some women specifically choose to take a degree course with no male students – six IT-related courses in Germany are open exclusively to women. One of them is at the University of Applied Sciences (HTW) in Berlin. It advertises the fact that no prior knowledge of IT is needed to enrol on the course.
Dispelling fears and reservations
One of the reasons why many women do not feel up to a degree in computer science is their lack of experience in areas like programming – even though they may be good at mathematics and logic. Consequently, many initiatives aim to dispel such fears and reservations. Rails Girls Berlin, a network of volunteers, offers free programming workshops for women. Places always get booked up really quickly. “And other great initiatives are being developed, particularly in Berlin”, says Laura Laugwitz, one of the workshop tutors.