Even though I grew up surrounded by engineers and technology in Silicon Valley, I didn’t decide to seriously study science until my freshman year in college, when I switched my major from economics to theoretical mathematics at the suggestion of my calculus professor. That was the first time a teacher told me I had a strong aptitude for math and encouraged me to expand my idea of what kinds of studies and careers to pursue. Mentors are widely recognized as being a key factor in helping girls decide to study science and technology. This is especially true in developing counties where there are traditionally fewer professional female role models. Cisco is a champion for educating girls and women in technology and understands the importance of mentors early in a girl’s academic career. This is why 70 Cisco offices in 52 countries are putting on events for International Girls in ICT Day, introducing students to successful professionals and encouraging them to study science and technology.
Girls Visit Cisco Headquarters
International Girls in ICT Day is a global event held in April each year to help empower and encourage girls and young women to consider studies and careers in information and communications technology (ICT). I attended the Girls in ICT Day event at Cisco headquarters in San Jose, California on April 11 with 47 girls ranging from 8 to 18 years old from 9 local schools. Cisco’s commitment to helping girls increase their opportunities through a technology career was evident throughout the day.
Dave Goddard, Cisco’s Vice President of Energy Solutions, gave a short talk about technology and the rising influence that the Internet of Everything is having in society. He conducted a lively Q&A with dozens of astute questions from the girls. It is a sign of the times that his own 8-year-old daughter Isabella, who attended the event, said she wanted to be a Cisco engineer like her father when she grew up.
Another highlight of the day was a Q&A session with a panel of 5 Cisco employees who are recent college graduates. Software engineer Jessica Thrasher, Industrial Engineer/Business Analyst Cindy Gonzalez, Program Managers Ayo Balogun and Lauren Petruccelli, and HR Manager Alice Tang certainly modeled to the girls that technical careers can be fun, as well as rewarding, and that being geeky is cool. Interesting work, good pay, and better career options are some of the benefits of an ICT career, they said. The girls also got a chance to see that women can have a career in technology even if they don’t want to be engineers. After a day of hearing about technology trends, meeting ICT professionals, and using Cisco technology, a lot of the attendees said they were thinking about a career in ICT.
Girls in ICT Day Around the Globe
Other North American Cisco offices in North Carolina, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Kansas, and Canada also held Girls in ICT Day events on April 11 where girls could learn about technology and talk with women who work in the field. In all of the events, Cisco technology, such as Cisco TelePresence video conferencing, was used to help the girls connect with Cisco executives and with attendees from other locations.
Europe, the Middle East, and Africa
On March 27 and April 8, 208 girls participated in Girls in ICT Day from 11 countries in 3 different parts of the world: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. A highlight: on April 8, Cisco TelePresence technology connected Cisco executives in London with school girls in Bulgaria, Belarus, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Senegal, Nigeria, and South Africa. The Cisco employees talked about their own career paths and the school girls shared stories from their school and countries. The Belarus girls even sang their school song!
Each office organized a series of activities to introduce the attendees to careers in ICT and female role models. Some offices had women who are Cisco professionals share their experience with the girls and brought in inspirational women leaders from other companies as well. In the Middle East, a representative from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which established Girls in ICT Day in 2010, gave a presentation about ICT career opportunities.
The girls around the world enjoyed the day. For example, Adama from Senegal commented that “I learned from the executive speakers that we can achieve innovation and creativity by becoming curious, asking questions, and staying confident.” A school girl from Bulgaria reported that the day “was really interesting and motivating! After the presentation I felt a lot more secure and sure about my choice to work in the IT field.” When asked why they wanted a career in ICT the girls had ready responses. Aicha wants a technology career to help disadvantaged people and change their lives and Haby wants to work in ICT “because right from childhood, my parents always made me feel technology wasn’t for me and just for my brothers. I want to prove them wrong.”
I’m happy that my career path and my mentors led me to a company so dedicated to educating girls in technology. Here, I have the chance to inspire girls to study science and technology even earlier in their lives than I did. Cisco offices will be holding 50 more Girls In ICT Day events in 40 more countries around the world between April 24 and May 22.