Nº 4 2012 > Women and girls in ICT
Views on how technology can empower women and girls
“Today, women perform two thirds of the world’s work, and produce half of the world’s food. But they earn just a tenth of the world’s income and they own just 1 per cent of the world’s property. In 2011, only 12 of the Fortune 500 companies had a female chief executive officer (CEO) — and that number is down from 15 in 2010! In our world of ICT it is only fractionally better — with just 16 female ministers in the 193 ITU Member States. Only 10 of the 158 independent ICT regulatory authorities worldwide are headed by a woman. Now, that’s a lot of numbers. But that’s to show us all that we need to bring women to the table,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Chief of ITU’s Strategic Planning and Membership Department, in her keynote address to the High-Level Dialogue, which took place on 16 May in Geneva, following the 2012 World Telecommunication and Information Society Award ceremony.
Held during the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS Forum 2012), the High-Level Dialogue focused on “Women and Girls in ICT” — this year’s theme for World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. The focus of the debate was on empowerment, equality, education and employment. These four “Es” are also the focus of ITU’s three-year “Tech Needs Girls” campaign launched on 26 April 2012 in New York. Ms Bogdan-Martin, ITU’s most senior woman was joined by other top women and men from across the public and private sectors in highlighting the role technology can play in empowering women worldwide. “The empowerment of women and girls is not just right, it is also plain common sense; why would we want to exclude half of the world’s population from any equation, or deny the full potential we have for sustainable social and economic growth?,” she asked.
The High-Level Dialogue was moderated by Nisha Pillai, former BBC World journalist, with as panellists: Geena Davis, academy award-winning actor and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Jasna Matić, Serbia’s State Secretary for Digital Agenda; Carlos Martinez, Global Director, Service Providers in Developing Economies, Intel World Ahead Group; Ms Magdalena Gaj, President, Office of Electronic Communication of Poland; Ann Mei Chang, Senior Advisor for Women and Technology at the US State Department; Marta A. Tomovska, Deputy Minister of Information Society and Administration, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Miguel Raimilla, Executive Director at Telecentre.org Foundation; and Sarah Lamb, Software engineer and Founder of GirlGeek Dinners London.
Ms Geena Davis exemplifies the strong woman on the silver screen, but her role as a strong woman in real life is just as important. In this role, Ms Davis champions women in the sporting world and challenges gender stereotypes in the media. In 1999, Ms Davis competed as an archer in the Sydney International Golden Arrow competition, a preparatory event for the 2000 Summer Olympics in that city. Archery is “character building and it really puts you in touch with yourself”, she says. This competitive spirit underlies her effort, in 2004, to found the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. She told participants that women are seriously underrepresented in all sectors of society, especially in ICT. She noted that one of the problems is that men do not consider women to be good enough for technology. Another problem is that girls and women do not imagine their careers in ICT. That is why, it is so crucial to encourage them to participate in the ICT sector.
Ms Jasna Matić is the driving force behind the Global Network of Women ICT Decision-Makers she launched in New York in February 2011 with Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, during the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Ms Matić stressed that in our society success and women, in general, are correlated negatively. And women in ICT is something that is not always easily accepted. “People are not used to seeing women in technical and decision-making positions,” she observed, adding that it is important to change these perceptions.
Ms Sarah Lamb explained why she was inspired to establish GirlGeek Dinners London, underlining that “if we change men’s attitudes and get their support, the society will be able to empower women.” She created GirlGeek Dinners London out of the frustration of “being one of the only females attending technical events and being asked to justify why she was there by her male counterparts. She decided that she wanted this to change and to be treated just the same as any other geek out there, regardless of gender and age. She got in touch with some bloggers and posted online her idea of getting geeks to educate one another over dinner and organized the first girl geek dinner event in London. Soon, people who attended the London event wanted to do the same in their local towns and cities. So Ms Lamb trained them in how to run the events. And these have since spread in Europe and Canada.
Underlining the importance of women for the economy and the value of education, Carlos Martinez spotlighted three programmes launched by Intel that will help women and girls to realize their full potential. One is the “Intel Easy Steps Program”, which gives adult learners the opportunity to improve their social and economic self-sufficiency through digital literacy. Programme materials use proven adult learning techniques to teach skills to people with little or no computer experience. The other is the “Women in Technology” scholarship programme. Through this programme, Intel hopes to increase awareness and encourage a new generation of high-achieving women to take up the challenge of a career in technology. The third is the “Intel International Science and Engineering Fair”, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, which provides an annual forum for more than 1500 high school students to showcase their independent research.
Ms Ann Mei Chang underscored the need to raise awareness among girls about the many rewarding aspects of a career in ICT and to draw the attention of companies to this under-tapped talent pool. She underlined that while developed countries still have many issues to address, the challenges for girls in ICT are even greater in developing countries. But the good news is that ICT will certainly be an integral element of these countries’ growth stories by providing access to new markets and creating new jobs.
Miguel Raimilla presented a video spotlighting an inspiring story of how the life of a woman from a poor family in the Philippines was completely transformed, thanks to ICT. Mr Raimilla noted that it is very important to give women knowledge about ICT and let them decide what they want to do with it.
Ms Magdalena Gaj commented that today it is not just the hard work, but also the gender that determines one’s career opportunities. She commended ITU for dedicating the year 2012 to women and girls in ICT. She presented a project which has increased the number of young women choosing technical professions in her country, Poland. Ms Gaj observed that the success of the information society will depend on equal access to ICT for both men and women.
Ms Marta Tomovska told the story of her successful career and also stressed the lack of women in ICT. Noting that there is a huge potential for creativity and ideas from women, Ms Tomovska called for ways to stimulate women to join the ICT world.
Participants and panellists agreed on several fronts: the problem of women and girls in ICT needs to be resolved from childhood. It is crucial to give equal opportunities and possibilities to men and women. Young women will be more encouraged to work in ICT if they are better informed of its benefits and if successful women in the ICT sector are given more visibility. The quality and quantity of statistics on women in ICT should be improved, as should the reporting system. When solving the problem of women and girls in ICT, one has to understand that it is not only technology which needs girls, but also girls need technology. As Ms Bogdan-Martin put it “In the 21st century, over 95 per cent of all jobs have a digital component. So technology needs girls — and girls need technology. Girls and young women with ICT skills will find jobs that offer creativity, innovation, and entirely new ways of working.”