Network of Women group photo

Advancing women’s engagement ahead of ITU’s World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has set out to strengthen the role of women at its next World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA-24).

ITU’s standardization arm, ITU-T, includes a network of women dedicated to gender equality in technical standardization processes.

This year, the Network of Women in ITU-T aims to encourage the ITU community to appoint more women in leadership positions in this sector of ITU’s work, and as delegates and heads of delegation to WTSA-24.

While science and technology fields, including standardization, remain male-dominated, ITU actively promotes the principles of inclusivity and gender equality in all aspects of its work.

The governing conference for ITU standardization, WTSA-24 will take place in New Delhi, India, between 15 and 24 October.

ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin called on the organization’s membership to be pro-active in drawing women to WTSA-24, particularly in leadership roles. “It’s really important that that we start now and that we ensure a better balance when we look to leadership positions,” she said.

Seizo Onoe, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, on launching the “NOW4WTSA24” campaign, said he hoped to see women’s participation at the conference exceed 35 per cent.

Objectives ahead of WTSA-24

The campaign ahead of WTSA-24 aims to achieve:

  1. At least 35 per cent female participation.
  2. More gender-balanced delegations.
  3. More women as heads of delegations.
  4. More women nominated for key ITU-T leadership positions in the next four-year study period.

The wider mission is to make the world of standards development for information and communication technologies (ICTs) attractive to women, added ITU-T Network of Women Chair Rim Belhassine Cherif, Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer at Tunisie Telecom.

This can be done, she said, by providing opportunities for women to showcase their expertise, learn, teach others, connect, and advance their careers in the standardization process.

Over the coming months, the Network of Women in ITU-T aims to:

  • Promote women’s engagement in ITU activities, in the standardization sector, at the WTSA and beyond.
  • Advocate for women in leadership positions, champion women in the ICT industry, and support women in standardization activities.
  • Empower women through knowledge exchanges, networking, and tech innovation.
  • Recognize achievements, support women from developing countries, and cultivate diverse leadership talent.
  • Build a community and uplift young women in the industry through mentorships with senior NoW in ITU-T members.

A panel session on the opening day of TSAG − ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Advisory Group meeting − highlighted ways to promote equal participation in standardization work.

Leading women in standardization pledged their support for gender equality in ITU’s work and future conferences.

Niho Naganma, TSAG Vice-Chair, who began her career in standardization 20 years ago, shared her experiences from an industry perspective.

Women today need to be ready to take chances, and active networking is crucial. “We have a lot of opportunities for women now to take chances and enhance their skills in ITU,” she said.

Tania Villa, Chair of ITU-T Study Group 12 – ITU’s standardization expert group for performance, quality of service, quality of experience – is now in her tenth year at Mexico’s telecoms regulator. Women and diversity bring a different − and necessary − perspective to international standardization, she said.

ITU study groups currently include only 28 per cent women. “There’s still some work to be done. We need to attract not only women but young professionals,” said Villa.

Joanne Wilson, Deputy to the Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, has spent the bulk of her career as a delegate in the industry, some of it supporting US space agency NASA. In her view, regional activities are key to making progress in this area. “The issues and the challenges that women have differ depending on what region you’re in,” she said.

For Wilson, the relatively low numbers of women in the field remain a barrier to getting bigger numbers at ITU meetings.

More young women need to obtain engineering and computer science degrees and then take on standardization roles in their corporations. “That’s the only way we’re going to get them seated in these seats in our meetings,” she said.

Blanca Maria González, TDAG Vice-Chair, pointed out the importance of the network of women’s visibility back home at the ministry level in countries worldwide. “Our ministers are focusing more on programmes to have more girls enrol in technical careers – so it’s a reinforcement process,” she said.

Why the gender lens matters in ICT standardization

The Network of Women in ITU-T also takes interest in ensuring that standards are being developed with women in mind.

Technical standards are typically produced to be “gender neutral” or “unisex.” But even technical standards can harbour built-in biases.

A lack of gender-responsiveness in standardization can have negative consequences for women and girls. This is further exacerbated by low participation of women in the standards development process, especially in leading roles.

Learn more from this online workshop on gender-responsive standards.

ITU’s latest gender resolution

In November last year ITU’s Radiocommunication Assembly adopted a resolution to strengthen the involvement of women in policy discussions, technical studies, and other ITU-led engagement across the radiocommunication sector. During a reception of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, announced the launch of NOW4WRC27, urging governments and companies to support continued progress towards gender equity, equality, and parity.

ITU’s Girls in ICT Day

Every year on the fourth Thursday in April, ITU’s International Girls in ICT Day is celebrated to promote greater representation of women in tech roles. This year it takes place on 25 April, as the culmination of regional and local Girls in ICT events around the world.

What to expect at WTSA

WTSA, held every four years, defines the next period of study for ITU-T.

During WTSA-24, the Network of Women in ITU-T will hold a networking session, a recognition ceremony, mentoring, interactive sessions and social events. Save the date: 17 October.

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