World leaders draw roadmap for women in ICT
Global leaders from the US, Europe, Africa and Asia joined together this week to debate and define a roadmap that will help break down barriers and overturn outmoded attitudes in a bid get more girls into technology-related studies and careers.
A high-level dialogue held at New York’s Institute of International Education and hosted by the International Telecommunication Union, the UN-specialized agency for information and communication technology, identified misguided school-age career counselling, the popular media’s ‘geek’ image of the technology field, a dearth of inspirational female role models, and a lack of supportive frameworks in the home and workplace as factors that, together, tend to dissuade talented girls from pursuing a tech career.
The debate brought together leading international figures and champions of gender empowerment including Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director, UN Women; Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC); Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda; and Jasna Matić, State Secretary for Digital Agenda in Serbia.
It also featured lively discussion from industry leaders including Alethea Lodge-Clarke, Programme Manager of Public Private Partnerships for Microsoft; Monique Morrow, CTO Asia Pacific with Cisco Systems; Juliana Rotich, Ushahidi’s pioneering Executive Director; and Sarah Wynn-Williams, Manager of Global Public Policy for Facebook.
Inspired by the tremendous dedication of NGOs, universities, government agencies, industry and others around the world in organizing Girls in ICT Day events today, participants sketched our a basic blueprint for more successful approaches to attracting school-age girls to the fast-evolving technology field, and agreed to work together to change attitudes and boost female tech enrolment rates.
In his welcoming remarks to an invited audience of over 200 gender, education and technology experts, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré said: “Over the coming decade, there are expected to be two million more ICT jobs than there are professionals to fill them. This is an extraordinary opportunity for girls and young women – in a world where there are over 70 million unemployed young people.”
Dr Touré emphasized the need to cast aside outdated attitudes that are keeping young girls from considering technology as a career option. “ICT careers are not ‘too hard’ for girls. ICT careers are not ‘unfeminine’. And ICT careers are certainly not ‘boring’. Encouraging girls into the technology industry will create a positive feedback look – in turn creating inspiring new role models for the next generation.”
The event also featured very special guest Joanne O’Riordan, one of only seven people in the world with Total Amelia, a congenital birth condition causing the absence of all four limbs. ITU flew Joanne to New York from her native Cork in Ireland to take part in the event, so that she could give her perspective on the vital role of accessible technology in personal empowerment. In an inspirational speech, the 16-year-old, who celebrated her birthday in NY just prior to the event, told the audience her motto in life had always been ‘no limbs, no limits’.
“I use technology in all aspects of my life . . . I was just one year old when I first began to explore the use of technology with our old computer. I figured out how to use it by simply moving my ‘hand’ and chin at a faster speed. Today I can type 36 words a minute and for someone with no limbs, I think that’s an incredible achievement,” she said.
Joanne concluded by throwing out an ambitious challenge to the industry leaders present at the debate and the thousands of technology experts watching the event via global webcast, asking them to work on creating a robotic system that could help her and others with disabilities or age-related problems live richer, fuller lives. “I’m asking the women here, who are the leading women in their fields, to start doing what I do every day – think outside the box. To think of ways and means to make technology more accessible to the people who really need it. Women are better than men at most things, so why not technology too?”
ITU’s Dr Touré closed the event with a call for partners to collaborate with ITU on a three-year ‘Tech Needs Girls’ campaign focused around four ‘Es’: empowerment, equality, education and employment. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us all, working together as partners, to make a real difference,” he said.
‘Girls in ICT Day’ is a new annual event on the UN calendar, and is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in April. It was established through a formal Resolution at ITU’s four-yearly Plenipotentiary Conference in 2010.
This year, in addition to the New York high-level debate, over 100 Girls in ICT Day events in were held in more than 70 countries worldwide. These events extended invitations to teenage girls and university students to spend the day at the offices of ICT companies, government agencies or academic institutions and to meet with female role models working in the technology field, in order to give them a better appreciation of the many exciting opportunities available in the ICT sector.
ITU and its partner WITNET provided support to Girls in ICT Day event organizers worldwide, sharing flyers, banners, event organization toolkits, and helping organizers with sponsorship ideas and coordination with other partners.
ITU Member States in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe all made a strong case for the creation of an empowering environment that encourages girls and young women to consider a tech career. Civil society organizations, academia and committed individuals also proved invaluable partners in the celebration of these events, often working with very little funding in their efforts to raise awareness among communities, teachers and career advisers of the excellent job prospects in the ICT sector. “Special mention should go to Cisco, a long time partner of ITU, which today organized more than 40 different events globally – and I know that many other tech companies have also been very active in promoting events and celebrations,” said Dr Touré.
An archived webcast of the New York Girls in ICT Day high-level debate can be viewed at: www.itu.int/ibs/sg/20120426girls/index.html.