The need for increasing the number of girls in the ICT sector has started to draw international attention. At the launching of the Tech Needs Girls Campaign on April 26, 2012 in New York, ITU (International Telecommunications Union) Secretary General Dr. Hamadoun I. Toure stated that:
The campaign will focus on four ‘E’s: empowerment, equality education and employment:
- Empowerment – means harnessing the power of technology to empower women and girls to bring about positive change in their own lives and communities around the world.
- Equality – means ensuring that women have full and equal access to the information and opportunities provided by new technologies and aspiring towards a sector that is more female-friendly.
- Education – means giving girls the same educational opportunities and choices as boys, and providing them with positive guidance towards possible careers in the ICT sector.
- Employment – means demonstrating that there are exciting and fulfilling careers in ICTs, and that these are excellent opportunities for girls to provide a more significant contribution than they do today. (http://www.itu.int/en/osg/speeches/Pages/2012-04-26-2.aspx)
The Tech Needs Girl Campaign seeks to encourage the entrance of girls into the ICT field through a variety of ways. According to the campaign’s website (www.techneedsgirls.org), a series of competitions for girls ages 9 to 18 throughout the world will be held to allow girls the opportunity to share their creative ideas for this field and prizes will be given to the best ideas. Although the competitions have not yet been posted, this seems like one way to help engage girls.
While in Geneva this summer, I had the opportunity to attend the WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) conference that took place at the beginning of May, which was in part sponsored by ITU. During the week long conference, many conference sessions dealt with the topic of women and girls in ICT as well as a high level dialogue between states about the issue of increasing the opportunities for women in these fields. Countries also highlighted their current efforts to attract women and girls into the growing field and drew attention to measures that seemed to work.
During the high level dialogue, ITU Secretary Toure stressed that increasing women in ICT fields was not based solely on the fact that women need ICTs in their lives but that the ICT field needed the unique experiences of women to help shape the field. For it is true that women need technology in their lives, but as women they are able to bring their perspectives to the field to help transform current technologies to address their needs.
Geena Davis, the celebrity spokeswoman for the campaign, addressed the important question of how to actually draw young girls into science and technology. Her comments, along with comments made by other states and organizations, focused on the need for positive female role models in the ICT sector. The dominant question reiterated several times dealt with the fact that right now girls do not see very many women in the ICT sector, let alone know what they do. Therefore, how are these girls ever going to choose a career in this field? The need for female role models became imperative. To this end, the Tech Needs Girls Campaign has decided to appoint special “Girls in ICT” ambassadors and the creation of the “Girls in ICT” web portal (access is found at www.techneedsgirls.org) that offers access to programs, scholarships, contests, internships, training, and online networks in the ICT sector.
During an informal opening reception at the conference, I was introduced to Secretary Toure and we discussed for several minutes the importance of women in the ICT field and the need to show young girls that an ICT career could be for them. As we talked about the important perspectives that women can bring to the field and the transforming effect they could have, I couldn’t help but reflect about my own childhood career aspirations.
My father is an electrical engineer and he often tried to introduce me to the field of engineering and other technology related careers. I remember visiting his work on “Bring your daughter to work days” and learning about the interesting things you can do as an engineer. Although I was pretty good at math, I didn’t think engineering could ever be for me, in part because it seemed to be a field dominated by men and I rarely met many women in the field. Sometimes I wonder if I had seen more women in the field if I would have considered a career in engineering or another ICT related career. Given that I love what I am learning now, I don’t think I would have but I think having positive female role models and understanding that the ICT field is for women would have made an impression.
My sincere hope is that this new campaign will help draw talented girls into the ICT field so that it can be transformed by their ideas. Time will tell if this will be effective. You can also find the Tech Needs Girls Campaign on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TechNeedsGirls?fref=ts).