200 girls and women in ICT share their stories
Despite the growing demand for information and communication technology (ICT) professionals, women still trail their male counterparts in terms of pay, leadership roles, and representation in the digital sector.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 suggests that only 14 per cent of those working in cloud computing, 20 per cent of engineers, and 32 per cent of data and artificial intelligence professionals are women.
These disparities are concerning, not least because technology-related careers arguably dominate today’s job market.
Moreover, the underrepresentation of women means their voices are absent from decision-making when it comes to designing our digital society.
Many of the causes of the imbalance stem from social norms, stereotypes, and values cultivated in childhood and adolescence. Barriers blocking gender equality in the technology sector arise early in life, with the lack of visible female role models in the ICT field playing a key part.
A report from UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Towards an equal future: Reimagining girls’ education through STEM, finds that globally, only 18 per cent of girls in tertiary education are pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies — compared to 35 per cent of boys.
In a similar vein, only 3 per cent of female students would consider a career in technology as their first choice, according to the joint report.
As we move further into the information age, women and men need to be equally represented as shapers of our increasingly digital world. One way to inspire and empower girls and young women is to showcase success stories.
The Talking Tech: Girls and Women in ICT interview series , for example, helps to counteract the ‘othering’ of girls and women in the sector.
Today, there is nothing they cannot achieve in this fast-evolving field.
The term ‘othering’ describes a pattern of exclusion and marginalization based on attributes such as race, age, gender or disability, which may differentiate the individual from perceived norms in a given context. In the workplace, othering can bar those outside the dominant culture from access to opportunities. Launched In April 2020, Talking Tech challenges the gender stereotypes that contribute to women’s minority status in the technology sector.
Sixteen months on, the series celebrated the milestone of 100 interviews, with over 200 tenacious girls and women challenging stereotypes and sharing their stories of personal and professional growth.
The intergenerational interview series supports the Girls in ICT Day initiative and the EQUALS Global Partnership. Run by ITU with the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC) and the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, it enables aspiring ICT professionals to interview and be interviewed by role models who are leaders in their field.
Participants range from experts in artificial Intelligence (AI) to electronic sports (esports), astronauts to leaders of UN agencies, and ambassadors to corporate executives. In the interviews, women and girls from around the world share achievements and challenges, exchange advice and network with one another – all to inspire others with evidence that every girl can fulfil great potential in the ICT sector.
Evidence of empowerment
One young aerospace engineer – Inspired by her Talking Tech experience – launched her own podcast, in which she interviews professionals in the space sector. Another young woman called her interview for the series a “mind-changing experience for career-starters like myself”.
Not only does Talking Tech engagement help girls and young women build confidence. It also provides valuable networking opportunities – essential to build a career in today’s interconnected world.
In some cases, interviewers have been hired or offered internships at the interviewee’s companies. For interviewees, Talking Tech sometimes marks the beginning of a mentorship.
“I love the video,” one executive said after an interview session. But even more, she welcomed “the process of getting to know [my interviewer] and her objectives,” and was “looking forward to a long relationship with her as she navigates her career and life.”
The organizers feel gratified by such positive outcomes.
“We could not be prouder of this community of over 200 ladies committed to supporting one another,” said Anastasia Bektimirova, part of the Talking Tech team at ITU. “Envisioning how many more minds have been inspired and growth opportunities have been triggered by the project is deeply gratifying and shows how digital initiatives and partnerships can make a tangible, positive difference in people’s lives.”