Nº 6 2015 > Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

Girls and women and innovation

Innovating with Alja:
How do we close the ICT gender gap?

Girls and women and innovation

Women are getting online later than men, leading to a growing technology gender gap. Alja Isakovic shares her story about working to narrow the gender divide in the world of technology.

Living without modern-day technology is almost unthinkable for many of us. I remember the thrill of the slow and chirpy modem connecting to the World Wide Web back in the 90s. Suddenly, I had access to more information that I could have dreamed; I was able to chat with people around the world, learning about different cultures first-hand.

I realized many years later, that it is still unusual for women to be involved in this field.

Technology is omnipresent in today’s society; over 95 per cent of jobs now have a digital component. Though the 1995 Beijing Declaration called for the “full and equal participation of women”, ITU estimates that 200 million fewer women are online than men. In 2013, Intel predicted that without immediate action, this could grow to 350 million by 2016. If women are not adequately trained, they will have reduced access to employment, which could have further ramifications for their social, economic and political inclusion.

In this digitally permeated era, we can no longer afford to leave out 200 million women from the technology sphere.

Opportunities and successes

I graduated from the first Media Communications degree offered at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Maribor, Slovenia. The programme provided a mix of technical, social and design topics, and programming has always been a hobby.

During my studies, I became very interested in the field of e‑learning and co-founded Artesia, a start-up to connect online communities. It led me to various other opportunities, one of the most exciting of which was the chance to work with a local business accelerator to share my story with a new generation of start-ups, helping young entrepreneurs to avoid my mistakes and to communicate best practices. The experience also led me to my current job as online community manager at CubeSensors, a hardware start-up that measures vital environmental indicators such as air quality, temperature, humidity, and noise to help users understand how their home or office is affecting their health, comfort and productivity.

I also organize and teach free programming workshops with Rail Girls and Django Girls. In Slovenia, we had over 1500 applications for these workshops, which is an incredible number given our small population of two million. We have received a lot of support from professional programmers who volunteer their time to share their knowledge with us. Many of them were surprised by the number of women interested in advancing their ICT skills.

Working together

In 2013, I co-founded CodeCatz, a coding study group that meets every Wednesday. We have tried to make learning to code a social activity — and I think this plays a pivotal role in how many women participate. Removing the classroom format, we have developed a fun and friendly atmosphere where we learn from each other and work on interesting open-source projects. Last year we organized and coached a few workshops in Slovenia and spoke at events abroad. This year we are helping to organize WebCamp Ljubljana, a conference for web developers.

One of my proudest moments with the group was building the EU Code Week events webpage.

Connecting communities

Coding teaches people how to solve problems. I believe it is important for young people to have the experience of creating something on their own. By teaching our youth how to code, we are turning them into better problem solvers and giving them the expertise to better understand our digital world.

This belief led me to join the European Commission’s Young Adviser programme, set up by Neelie Kroes. We are a group of young people who are actively involved in shaping the digital society. At a Young Adviser’s meeting, I learnt about many wonderful initiatives to get girls and women involved in ICTs across Europe, such as CoderDojo and Rail Girls. Unfortunately, although these initiatives have a big impact on local communities, people in the rest of Europe don’t hear about them for reasons such as language barriers and a lack of enthusiasm in the mainstream media. We thought we needed to give these initiatives a bigger voice and encourage all of the great work that is being done across Europe to promote coding. That’s why we launched EU Code Week, which is about teaching children and adults how to code and understand more about technology. We want to promote it as a new form of literacy and a skill that can bring your ideas to life.

This article is an abridgement.
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Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

In this issue
No.6 November | December 2015

Pathway for smart sustainable cities:

A guide for city leaders

Pathway for smart sustainable cities|1

Meeting with the Secretary-General:

Official Visits

Meeting with the Secretary-General|1
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Boosting “SMEs” for ICT growth

What can governments do better?

A guide for city leaders

By Silvia Guzmán, Chairman, ITU Focus Group for Smart Sustainable Cities