Using Technology To Fill Gender And Employment Gaps

As we have discussed here recently, broadband access provides more economic opportunities to more people.  Now a new United Nations report further confirms this thesis.  The report, Technology, Broadband and Education: Advancing the Education for All Agenda, concludes that access to high-speed Internet on multiple platforms help students gain the necessary skills to be employable and participate in the global economy.

“The ability of broadband to improve and enhance education, as well as students’ experience of education, is undisputed,” said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré.  “A good and well-rounded education is the basis on which future livelihoods and families are founded, and education opens up minds, as well as job prospects.  A student in a developing country can now access the library of a prestigious university anywhere in the world; an unemployed person can retrain and improve their job prospects in other fields; teachers can gain inspiration and advice from the resources and experiences of others. With each of these achievements, the online world brings about another real-world victory for education, dialogue, and better understanding between peoples.”

The report specifically calls on governments to invest in equal access to ICT for all citizens, especially women and girls. Close to 793 million adults – 64% of them women – lack literacy skills, with the lowest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.

As another International Women’s Day comes around again, we need to keep in mind that the digital divide is now considered a development divide, and in order for women to achieve equality, they need increased access to education and gainful employment through better broadband and ICT training.

As for workforce diversity in the tech sector, most research shows that there is a huge labor market gap when it comes to women in ICT careers worldwide.  Keep in mind that too few students in general are preparing themselves for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in many countries, including those in the developed world.  But on top of that, the number of women in these fields is disproportionately low.  Access is not the only reason for the low numbers of women.  Many women in the report said that they hesitate to pursue an ICT career because they don’t want to be seen as being too geeky, unattractive and even unfeminine.

Fortunately, many tech firms are realizing that attracting more women to work for them is good business and positively impacts financial performance.  Last year during the UN’s “Girls in ICT” Day, more than 1,300 activities in nearly 90 countries marked the day, involving more than 30,000 girls worldwide.  Many of these events were led by leading tech firms.

There are many organizations we have reported on here in the past that continue to do good work around closing the digital gap among women and girls.  TechWomen is an initiative launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 to empower tech-savvy women in the Middle East through professional development and mentorship with their American counterparts in Silicon Valley.  Last month, TechWomen convened again in Jordan to connect and collaborate with local organizations there.  This year, it included emerging women in the tech sector from Sub-Saharan Africa.  TechWomen also spawned a similar program last year to engage girls ages 15-17 – TechGirls.

In the United States, #BlackGirlsHack is getting ready to take over South By SouthWest (SXSW 2013) next week.   Founded by tech entrepreneur Kat Calvin, #BlackGirlsHack has become the premier leader in empowering African-American women and girls in technology by exposing them to other minority developers at their famed hackathons.  #BlackGirlsHack was recently rebranded as Blerdology – the science of black nerds – in order to embrace the fact that it is okay for women in technology to be geeky and still be attractive and feminine.

“As a proud blerd I am thrilled to expand our mission and explore the multiple ways that Blerdology can build and grow the blerd movement,” said Calvin. “From hackathons to educational webisodes, t-shirts declaring our blerdness and even the occasional Uhura love fest, Blerdology is going to rock the tech community and take the blerd movement to another level.”

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