April 25 was International Girls in ICT Day, a global event held on the fourth Thursday in April each year to help inspire girls to consider a future in technology. The number of girls and young women opting to study technology-related disciplines is on the decline in most countries worldwide.
In only its third year, Girls in ICT Day continues to gain global momentum. This year, events hosted by governments, private sector companies, and nonprofits took place in more than 100 countries.
Cisco is committed to championing the important role a career in technology can play in creating far-reaching opportunities for women and girls. Eighty Cisco offices held Girls in ICT Day events in 60 counties.
Girls Visit Cisco Headquarters
I attended the event at Cisco headquarters in San Jose, California with 40 girls ranging in age from 12 to 18 from 4 local schools. Half the girls were taking Cisco Networking Academy courses at Irvington High School in nearby Fremont, but most still were undecided about their future career path. They really enjoyed the day.
Stephanie Kelly, a marketing manager with Cisco Corporate Affairs, began the day with an interesting presentation on why tech needs girls. She said strengths that tend to be more prevalent in women -- like intuition and the ability to multi-task -- are valuable in technology.
“Problem solving is about being intuitive as well as rational…Innovation requires diversity,” she said. Historically, gender-diverse companies perform better than those with predominately female or male professionals.
One highlight of the day was a panel of 5 young Cisco employees who talked about how they decided on careers at technology. The 3 engineers and 2 IT analysts talked about their career paths and the benefits of an ICT career, including interesting work, good pay, and better career options.
The engineers made an important point to the girls: You can have a career in technology even if you don’t want to be an engineer or software developer. Slightly less than one-third of Cisco’s 66,000 employees are engineers. If a woman prefers a tech career that interacts more with people than numbers, she could pursue other important roles in customer service, sales, and marketing.
Sonia Martin, a project director at Ohlone College who helped arrange the student visits, said, “Hearing about how the panelists came to Cisco was inspiring and almost every girl was trying to figure out how she could talk you [Cisco] into hiring high school interns!”
Girls in ICT Day Around the Globe
At other events, Cisco employees shared their own personal experiences, and external speakers also talked about the importance of tech careers in a variety of industries.
In Lebanon, for instance, a government representative and a nonprofit executive talked about the importance of ICT in Lebanon and in their fields. The Cisco Girls in ICT Day event not only helped educate the girls about careers in tech, but also help awaken in them an understanding of their own technical skills.
After Fadi Moubarak, General Sales Manager in Cisco’s Beirut, Lebanon office told the girls about the "Internet of Everything,” the girls then did an activity designed to help them expand their technical thinking. When asked “What if your fridge, bag, pen, etc was connected?” they gave some insightful and practical answers. One participant said: “If my refrigerator was connected, then the fridge would tell all the food contents inside what was missing, and what I could make for dinner with the ingredients.”
In Cisco's Europe, Middle East and Africa region alone, 45 offices in 33 countries -- from Norway to Qatar to Nigeria -- participated in the event.
Dragostina Grancharova, who helped organize those events from her office in Sofia, Bulgaria, said participating in Girls in ICT Day allows Cisco to show girls what a career in technology could be like.
“A lot of research show that a diverse team produces the best results,” she said. “That is why we strive to bring a balance in the IT industry, which is still dominated by man especially on executive level.”
Indeed, in the United Kingdom, fewer than 1 in 5 computer scientists are women. And in the United States, women hold more degrees than men and make up 58 percent of the professional workforce, yet their representation in ICT has declined over the past decade to less than 25 percent, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
In Saudi Arabia, Summer Nasief, a Senior Director at IBM, spoke to 36 students from 3 universities, sharing the challenges she has faced throughout her journey.
Ms. Naseif explained that she didn’t know in the beginning what she wanted to do in her career, but eventually found her passion in technology. Today, she is one of the most senior women in the IT industry in Saudi Arabia, managing the multi-million healthcare consulting practices at IBM and a team of 10 people.
Read how the Cisco Networking Academy is helping young women in Saudi Arabia pursue careers in technology.