Nº 4 2012 > Women and girls in ICT
Moscow seminar on equal opportunity for women and girls in ICT
Professional women exchange views
On 19–20 April 2012, a seminar was held in Moscow at the ITU Area Office for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to mark both World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (17 May) and Girls in ICT Day (26 April).
Beyond simply celebrating these two important days, the seminar aimed to inform girls and women in the CIS region of the opportunities for professional development in ICT. The event supported the ITU’s initiative for gender equality, which recognizes that technology is a tool for attaining equity through extending the rights of women and the opportunities open to them.
The seminar was organized by ITU in collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE) and the Cisco Networking Academy, and was supported by the CIS administrations. Some 33 women, representing nine CIS countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine), took part.
Girls and women, ICT, education, and careers
Welcoming participants to the seminar, Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, said that four major elements — girls and women, ICT, education, and careers — were coming together to create a synergy which could lead the world to a better future. “On this second Girls in ICT Day, I would like to highlight the vast unused potential of girls and young women throughout the world”, he said. “If we can ensure that they have the opportunity to realize their potential through education and equal access to ICT, all societies and their economies will be the winners”, he concluded.
The seminar programme was packed with varied and informative content. Orozobek Kaiykov, Director of the ITU Area Office for the CIS countries, and Andrei Untila, Programme Officer at the ITU Area Office for the CIS, described the United Nations system, ITU’s activities in particular in the CIS countries, and the efforts of international organizations to ensure gender equality in contemporary society.
Among the many high-level speakers, Natalya Tokareva, who heads IITE’s sector for ICT in early childhood, primary and inclusive education, Gajane Valchevskaja, Manager of the Cisco Networking Academy, and Elena Onishko, consultant at the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Communications and lecturer at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO university), shared their invaluable personal experiences of professional development in ICT — an area that has traditionally been considered a male preserve — and dispelled some of the prevailing prejudices about the role of women in ICT being a subordinate one.
“When I heard about Girls in ICT Day, I was very sceptical to begin with. Like many of you, I never felt that my rights had been infringed”, said Gajane Valchevskaja. “I thought it didn’t matter whether you were a man or woman — if you want to advance in your career you will succeed. But then I saw that there is still a problem, and it starts to be felt when a woman applies for a senior post and men start to see her as a rival. That is when you realize what it means to be in a tough male environment and how hard it can be to get to the top.”
Employment opportunities in the ICT sector
The first day of the seminar focused on gender-related aspects of using ICT in education, and the potential for women’s development in applied ICT fields. The challenge of tackling the deficit in skilled workers was discussed, using as an example the Cisco Networking Academy.
Tatiana Trukhan, Deputy Director-General of the Executive Board of the Regional Commonwealth in the field of Communications (RCC), noted the shortage of qualified workers in the ICT sector. She said that, in 2010, about 1 million people were employed in the post and telecommunication sector in the CIS countries. About 57 per cent of postal workers were women, as compared with about 36 per cent of telecommunication workers. “The figures speak for themselves. There is a clear need to boost the role and the number of women in the ICT sector and to raise the number of women in senior posts by bringing in highly qualified women with a technical background and experience of working in ICT organizations”, commented Ms Trukhan.
Orozobek Kaiykov also highlighted the job opportunities in the ICT sector, noting that “Despite the obvious advantages, many girls have never considered a professional life in ICT. Many countries and regions are forecasting a shortage of qualified workers trained in mathematics, science and technology, with information technology skills, who are needed to respond to the growing demand. And many countries are determined to increase the number of women employed in the sector. That means that excellent opportunities are opening up, in developed and developing countries alike, for highly qualified women in technical fields.”
Women’s personal experiences in ICT careers
On the second day of the seminar, Elena Onishko presented a paper and led a discussion on “Children and young people in the global information society: Challenges for schools and possible ways of resolving contradictions”. This was followed by perhaps the most interesting part of the programme — a round-table discussion on the theme “Behind the scenes of a career in ICT”. Participants described how they had come into ICT, their education, professional experience, projects in which they had been involved, and people who had influenced their decision to work in ICT and the roles they had played in their careers.
Ms Onishko said “First I studied at the Russian Academy of Sciences Lycée, specializing in foreign languages and information technology. I married early and decided to stay in my home town, Magnitogorsk, and continue my studies there. I entered the foreign languages faculty and after a year and a half I started to feel a lack of ICT in my life because my programming and other ICT skills were not being used. I then transferred to the information technology faculty and passed all my exams, and by the following year I was already a mentor for the new intake”.
Ms Onishko found her course of study fascinating, and her working career developed in parallel with the academic side. “I always worked, starting out in Magnitogorsk as a specialist in adapting software in the central children’s library, then working with other colleagues to install a corporate distance learning system at the Russian Federation’s biggest metallurgical enterprise.” With regard to leadership, she saw women and men working in tandem. “Men can become better leaders if they work together with women, and vice versa”, she said.
Sineva Irina Sergeevna, Head of the department for work with international programmes, projects and funds at the Moscow Technical University of Communications and Informatics, endorsed that view, saying “Our brains are constructed differently. Women do parallel processing, men process information in a multi-phase, linear, sequential manner. So you need both. Ms Sergeevna described her own career path, saying “I graduated in mechanics and mathematics from Moscow State University. I always liked proving theorems. But as they say “theory is dry, but the tree of life is evergreen”. The ICT field was full of problems for which my training in mathematics and physics was useful. That is why I work in ICT as a researcher in collaboration with international programmes — this is what interests me.”
Promoting gender equity
“For more than 30 years, solving the problem of inequality and the disparity in educational opportunities for women and girls has been one of the UN’s top priorities”, said Dendev Badarch, Acting Director of the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, explaining that “Women and men must enjoy equal opportunities at all levels of education. The position of women in the labour market, and their capacity to play a full part in social, political and economic life, depend largely on their access to education. The decade 1976–1985 was declared by the UN to be the Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, leading to a greater awareness of the problem and of the need to tackle it at the global level. As a result, in 2000 the question of gender equality was included in one of the eight Millennium Development Goals”.
A turning point
All the seminar participants agreed that the event had been a turning point in their lives, in that it had highlighted the challenge of women in ICT. In the words of Ms Valchevskaja: “As a result of the seminar I have begun to open up to new ideas. I will do everything I can to support Girls in ICT Day. I now believe that it really is important to have such events aimed at women. I would advise school students, whatever their future occupation is to be, to improve their basic ICT skills and look around them with their eyes wide open and see what the leading world brands have to offer. There are now unprecedented training opportunities. Prospects for the profession are very good.” Educated and ambitious women showed the world that they were ready to change their lives and take on leadership roles in ICT, adopting their own distinctive approaches.