Nº 4 2012 > Women and girls in ICT
Technology careers beckon
Most developed countries are forecasting an alarming shortfall in the number of skilled staff to fill upcoming jobs in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.
The European Union calculates that in 10 years time there will be 700 000 more ICT jobs than there are professionals to fill them. There will soon be a shortage of almost 200 000 people with “big data” skills in the United States alone. Globally, it is estimated that the world shortfall in skilled ICT professionals exceeds 2 million.
In many countries, girls are now excelling at science subjects. Teenage girls are using computers, smartphones and the Internet at rates similar to boys — yet they are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career.
A global campaign to attract girls to technology
ITU’s new campaign called “Tech Needs Girls”, launched in New York on 26 April 2012, has four areas of focus:
- Empowerment — harnessing the power of ICT to bring about positive change in the lives of women and girls, and their communities, around the world.
- Equality — ensuring that women have full and equal access to the information and opportunities provided by new technologies, while creating a more female-friendly sector.
- Education — giving girls the same educational choices as boys, and providing them with positive guidance towards possible careers in ICT.
- Employment — demonstrating that there are exciting and fulfilling careers in ICT, and that these are excellent opportunities for girls to make a contribution to society.
Special “Girls in ICT Ambassadors” will be appointed to help get these messages across. Meanwhile, the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) has developed the Girls in ICT portal at www.girlsinict.org with practical tips and advice for girls considering a career in ICT. The portal presents profiles of women who are role models in the ICT sector, and shows parents, teachers and other stakeholders why attracting girls and women to the ICT sector is good for society as a whole. The portal offers access to some 400 projects, including more than a hundred scholarship programmes, contests and awards, training and internship opportunities, as well as providing links to more than a hundred online networks that offer career support and mentoring, study camps, and activities and events such as Girls in ICT Day.
One example of a success story available through the portal is from Carola Aliaga, a systems engineer with an MSc in telecommunication systems and networks, who is National Project Control and Governance Manager at Ericsson in Tokyo, Japan. Her job is to manage a team responsible for tracking the progress of projects, acting as a liaison with various stakeholders.
“In my years working in this sector I have encountered very few technical women, or women in management positions. Most women work in support-related roles,” Ms Aliaga says, adding that only 10 per cent of the students in her university course on systems engineering were girls. “Over the years I have worked with mixed teams, but the only place where my team was mainly female was in Viet Nam. Telecom is a boys club”, explains Ms Aliaga. Her advice for young women thinking of entering the ICT sector as a career is “Do not underestimate yourself. Visualize where you are at now, where you want to be and what you want to achieve, and focus on that. Never ever lose faith or trust in yourself.” This is a message that ITU also wants to take to the world, having long promoted gender equality as one of its priorities.
Promoting digital literacy
Empowering women obviously requires more than ensuring access to ICT. Especially where girls are denied an education, they — and adult women — must first have the chance to learn to read and write. Broadband networks can be used to carry teaching to every community, even those that are remote. And broadband networks can also become conduits for training in the essential skills needed to operate in the modern world, including in financial matters and ICT themselves. Such training will help women to set up online businesses, for example, or to use services such as social networking sites to enhance their livelihoods.
In April 2011, ITU and ITU–D Sector Member, the Telecentre.org Foundation, joined hands to launch the Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign to make a difference in the lives of at least one million disadvantaged women in developing countries. This joint campaign gives women digital literacy skills, opening up the life-changing opportunities offered by ICT.
Since launching the campaign, nearly 225 000 grassroots women have achieved functional digital literacy by means of the training provided. This has been made possible through the support and contributions of partners from 67 countries and more than 100 organizations.
To reach the goal of training a million women, the campaign partners now seek further support in the form of commitments to train women, provide training materials and donate money. ITU and the Telecentre.org Foundation have launched a contest that will award much-needed telecentre equipment to the telecentre that trains the most women by 1 September 2012 (see www.telecentre.org for the contest details). ITU is supporting this campaign by making available to telecentres the digital literacy training materials it has developed. These materials can be found in the Training Materials, Applications and Tools section of the Connect a School, Connect a Community online platform (http://www.connectaschool.org/itu-training/3/149/Training-Materials/).