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No Inclusive Growth Without Women and Girls in ICT

Last week we partnered with the WEF in launching the 2015 Global Information Technology Report highlighting the importance of closing the gender gap in ICT to ensure everybody benefits from ICTs. Today as we celebrate the ITU’s Girl in ICT day all around the world, we recognize the challenge in front of us: fewer women and girls than men and boys use mobile phones and the Internet, fewer girls have shown interest in ICT careers, and fewer women currently hold positions in this industry.

Some of the statistics are sobering:

  • Teenage girls are 5 times less likely to consider a technology-related career compared to boys of the same age, even though the way in which each gender uses computers and the Internet is nearly identical.
  • Only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees were awarded to women in the United States between 2008 and 2011.
  • In OECD countries, women account for less than a fifth of ICT-related specialists.

The ramifications of not encouraging young girls to cultivate a love of science, technology, engineering, and/or math (STEM) – and more specifically, ICT – are broad reaching and impacts countries, communities and individuals. An enormous gap exists between the size of the ICT workforce demanded and the current global supply. Simply put, more positions are available or are in the process of being created than there are skilled workers to fill them. Employers around the world are struggling to fill hundreds of thousands of ICT jobs, and part of the problem is the lack of women trained in these fields.

The inadequate supply of skilled ICT workers is an economic problem compounded by the gender gap. The shortage leads to underachievement of an economy’s potential economic output, caps country competitiveness, limits potential employment gains and hinders innovation.

In 2015, the shortage of skilled IP networking professionals will be at least 1.2 million. In some countries, such as Costa Rica, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, there may be over a 45% gap. Even where countries have a relatively low shortage (e.g., Australia and Korea), the gap ranges between 10 to 20%. And in all countries, the networking skills gap is growing – due in large part because of positive developments such as increasing connectivity, the Internet of Everything, rising digitization of all business activity, globalization of trade and travel, and economic growth.

While a wide range of economic and cultural influences drive these gaps, one resounding reality is clear: empowering women and girls to pursue careers in ICT, helping close the IP skills gap, is no longer simply a good thing to do—it has become essential.

Closing the digital gender gap is not easy, but with sustained and persistent effort, the private sector, in conjunction with NGOs and the public sector, can empower women while benefiting measurably in the long run. Below are a few recommendations for achieving inclusive growth:

  1. Transform Existing Models of Education to more boldly foster children’s interest in STEM, starting with early childhood education, as well as encourage both girls and boys to maintain an interest in math and science by finding ways to make learning more fun, engaging, and accessible. Cisco is working with incredible community partners like MIND Research Institute and Citizen Schools to meet this goal, with the hope of not only expanding the population of students that has adopted an interest in STEM, but to also enhance the quality of work that these students bring into the classroom.
  1. Invest in STEM Mentoring to provide students with role models who may inspire them to consider careers in these fields by connecting students in high school and college to STEM professionals. By participating, schools and participating organizations are challenging psychological barriers to student success. Students need champions to look up to as they explore their career options – when they see success in action, they are more likely to pursue it for themselves. Cisco is proudly committed to mentorship through its engagement with US2020, an initiative inspired by the White house to encourage STEM mentoring amongst leading corporations. As a founding partner of US2020, Cisco has pledged that 20% of our U.S. workforce will spend 20 hours a year in STEM mentoring by 2020, with particular emphasis on the mentorship of girls.
  1. Develop the 21st Century Workforce to prepare and train employees who are critical to our networked future. Investing in ICT workforce development is essential for future economic success. More individuals must be equipped with the skills necessary to design, build, maintain, and secure tomorrow’s innovations so that they are prepared to enter a workforce that is constantly adapting to emerging 21st century technologies. Cisco’s Networking Academies represent our organization’s enduring commitment to promoting and training the next generation of skilled ICT workers, engaging over 5 million students in 170 different countries since 1997. While most of these academies are co-educational, many are targeted specifically toward young women. One such program is at Effat University in Saudi Arabia, whose mission is to embolden women to become leaders through expanded employment options and career advancement training. Today, the program is training the next generation of women trailblazers in Saudi Arabia’s tech sector.

These suggestions represent only a few examples of how organizations, like Cisco, can close the gender gap in ICTs. Today as Cisco celebrates Girls in ICT day by hosting over 3,300 girls from 56 countries across 91 locations, we recognize that the economic incentives are in place; the demand for skilled labor is omnipresent and overwhelming; and the global imperative to empower women and girls has been expressed and agreed to on an international scale. With cooperative action, we can solve two of the world’s challenges in one fell swoop; investing in women and girls is not just smart for society – it’s smart for business.

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Should women consider a career in cybersecurity? Absolutely!

With the United Nations’ International Girls in ICT day fast approaching on April 23rd, this is a great opportunity to discuss how we can get young women involved in careers in technology. Cybersecurity is an ever-present issue with companies and individuals suffering attacks daily. At Cisco, we believe that protection from threats does not rely on a single technology or solution, it incorporates both the processes and of course, the people. It is predicted that by 2017, an additional two million security professionals will be needed, but what many young people – particularly women – underestimate, is how rewarding and far-reaching a career in cybersecurity can be.

Taking, the UK as one example, cybersecurity employs 40,000 people and is worth £6 billion to the economy. Yet according to the Cisco 2014 Annual Security Report, more than one million positions for information security professionals remain unfilled around the world. What’s more, is that female cybersecurity staff only account for 11 percent of the global workforce. In Europe, the figures are even worse, coming in at only 7 percent .

Today there still remains a notion that IT is a “man’s job”. Women thinking of applying are often dissuaded as they may lack the confidence needed at the very start to pursue this career path. Yet, not only is this job market growing, but these jobs pay higher than other industries. We must do what we can to encourage young women to be fearless and pursue these fields of study, because they add new perspectives in the workplace that benefit business outcomes.

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Cisco and Techbridge Inspire Girls to Discover Passion for Technology

According to the Girl Scout Research Institute, more than half of all girls say they don’t typically consider a career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). At Cisco, we can change that – with the help of nonprofit partners like Techbridge, we can inspire girls to discover a passion for technology, science, and engineering.

As part of National Engineers Week and our efforts to empower the next generation of innovators and leaders, Cisco welcomed 30 fifth-grade girls from the Komatsu and Esperanza schools in Oakland, California to its San Jose campus earlier today, where they took part in a wide range of hands-on activities designed by Techbridge. Since launching in 2000, Techbridge has expanded academic options and STEM career opportunities for underrepresented minorities and more than 4000 girls in grades 5-12.

Shari Slate, Cisco's Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer, inspired the girls to pursue careers in STEM

Shari Slate, Cisco’s Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer, inspired the girls to pursue careers in STEM

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Cisco Offices Worldwide Celebrate International Girls in ICT Day

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.

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“Brave” Advice from #WomenInTech

As we approach Girls in ICT day on April 24th many people are talking about women in tech and gender bias. All this talk made me think of EWIP, a conference I attended a little over a month ago.

Women in Tech session

Women in Tech session

One of the sessions featured 4 women on a panel all who have proved to be amazing women in their fields that consist mostly of men. Liz Howard, who has been programming since she was 12 and working since 14 as a software engineer. Her job now is teaching women to code at Hackbright Academy. Tasneem Raja an interactive editor for Mother Jones’, she specializes in web app production, interactive graphic and user interface design. Natalie Villabolos the women in tech advocate at Google. Last but not least Trish Mills Gray the software development manager of the Social/User Generated Content team within Expedia Worldwide Engineering.

Their common theme during the session called Women in Tech, the importance of talking to girls at a young age and letting them know it is okay to like science and engineering.  Just about all of them recounted stories of teachers telling them they didn’t think they would get an answer right and the gender bias they grew up with. Liz even encouraged us listeners to think about presents we buy or daughters, “do we really need to get them a Barbie doll, or should you change things up?” Something I had never thought about as a mother of a 6 year old. She also said to encourage young girls to watch My Little Pony, Brave and Power Puff girls. All cartoons that include strong female characters, some of them work together as a team to solve a problem.

Girls Superhero Party

Girls Superhero Party

So during this month that we are celebrating and talking about Girls in ICT and women in tech – I will pass along this advice from the panel that now spends some of their time mentoring young talent to help get them to the next level. Please continue to talk about women in tech, don’t let this be a fad, look for those instances and talk about them and celebrate them. This month my teams’ monthly magazine called FOCUS will feature Women in Technology, take a look and tell us what you think, it will be live on April 21st.

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