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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A lack of women in high-tech jobs is costing the European Union billions of euros, the bloc's technology Commissioner Neelie Kroes said on Thursday, starting a campaign to attract women into a sector that faces a deepening skills shortage.
Only nine in 100 European app developers are women and women make up less than 30 percent of Europe's information and communications technology (ICT) workforce, according to figures from the Commission, the EU executive.
If the sector's skills shortage continues it will undermine European competitiveness, Kroes said. Solving it would ease the EU unemployment problem.
Figures released by the Commission on Thursday showed the European ICT sector had more than 400,000 job vacancies in February, a figure the EU executive predicts will rise to more than 500,000 in 2015 and more than 900,000 in 2020.
But the number studying technology at university is stable for men and falling for women.
"Attracting more women to tech careers is an economic imperative," Neelie Kroes said of the initiative, launched as part of Saturday's International Women's Day.
"If women held digital jobs as frequently as men, the European GDP could be boosted annually by around 9 billion euros ($12 billion)," she said, quoting a new study carried out by the Commission.
In the high-tech sector, women are particularly under-represented at management level. The percentage of women bosses is 19.2 percent compared with 45.2 percent in other sectors.
The research found that organizations that seek to nurture women in management achieve a 35 percent higher return on equity and 34 percent better return to shareholders than comparable organizations without a policy on inclusion.
The Commission's campaign seeks to encourage young women to study and pursue technology careers by celebrating role models and online videos of the sector's most inspiring women.
"ICT is no longer for the geeky few - it is cool, and it is the future!" Kroes said in a Twitter message.
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Reporting by Barbara Lewis, editing by William Hardy