I am a woman in tech. I’m also a telecommunication expert, a ham radio operator, career leader in government and civil society, policy-maker, and chair of a multi-stakeholder global partnership. I’m a mother, a daughter and a wife.
Of all the ways people identify me, the one that keeps coming back is woman in tech. Here’s why: Despite decades of research, significant international effort, changes to school curricula, financial incentives and movement building, the digital gender divide persists in 2018 and even continues to grow.
Women still make up only a small fraction of employees in the tech industry in 2018. Women leaders in the field are nearly as rare as unicorns. Female tech entrepreneurs have a very hard time getting VC funding. And the situation is even more dire for women in developing countries, where the gender gap in basic access to the internet and essential digital skills training is daunting, to say the least.
In most countries, girls and boys are exposed to math and sciences at equal rates in primary and lower secondary levels. Furthermore, there is no significant difference in math and science scores between boys and girls. But when students specialize at the higher secondary and university level, a gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) participation becomes noticeable.
We have a lot to learn about the causes of this gap, but we do know that it continues to grow and ends up reflected in STEM graduation rates and employment. It’s critical that we figure it out, because as a result of this gap women are seriously under-represented in engineering and technology. In the United States, for example, the National Society of Professional Engineers reports that only 12-18% of electrical engineers are women.
When young women don’t graduate with STEM degrees, paths to high-earning careers like engineering are closed to them. This can lead to socioeconomic disparities that further gender inequality and stereotypes. It also can lead to biased programming.
As Director-elect of the Development Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations, I had role models (male and female) who helped me imagine my own career. I hope to be an inspiration for young women who see my career path and see what’s possible for their futures, too.
We can engineer a better future for girls and women. I’m optimistic about the future because we’re working on it. The EQUALS Global Partnership, co-founded by ITU, works to bring online access, digital skills and tech leadership opportunities to girls and women around the world.
Girls in ICT Day, which we’ve been observing since 2010, shows girls the opportunities that a tech career can provide. Similar programs around the world offer young women a perspective where they can see themselves as engineers, developers, and yes, even ITU top executives.
Today some people already are offering advocacy support, administrative skills, policy expertise, research budgets, entrepreneurship opportunities, coding boot camps and training. It would be great to have more engineers in the mix. We need people who know how to look at a huge, knotty problem and start to pick at it until it’s solved, people who can engineer a way to a brighter future for women and girls.
This article was first published in the Electronic Engineering Times.