By next year there will be an estimated shortfall of 300,000 qualified engineers working in Europe's IT sector, while fewer than one in five computer scientists in Europe are female.
These facts lie behind the European Commission's drive over the past few years to attract more so-called "cyberellas" to the industry. On Tuesday, five prominent IT companies vowed to do more to make tech jobs attractive to women and to make better use of their potential in the IT sector, the Commission said.
"The signing of this Code of Best Practices is a first step towards making high-tech jobs cool for girls and getting more women into the ICT sector. I congratulate those companies that today have the courage and conviction to commit to this Code, that will enrich the ICT sector by making it more female-friendly," said Viviane Reding, European Union telecoms commissioner, in a statement.
The companies are Alcatel-Lucent, IMEC, Orange-France, Microsoft and Motorola. Reding urged other companies to follow suit.
The code aims to attract school-age girls and female university students to the high-tech sector and to retain women already employed in it. Practical measures include setting up computer clubs for girls, where they can develop greater self-confidence when using IT by creating Web sites, mixing music or designing online magazines.
The code also calls on firms to provide mentoring programs during maternity leave to help women keep current with the latest technological developments. Signatories are also required to offer women practical help in balancing family and work.
The code sets targets for the recruitment and promotion of female IT professionals at all job levels.