“Let’s Hear it for the Girls”

April 25, 2013 - 12 Comments

Girls and careers in information communications technology (ICT).  A contradiction? 

Unfortunately that is the case in so many classrooms and companies around the world.    Teenage girls use computers and the Internet similar to boys –  they text, they take pictures on their phones, yet they are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career.  In fact, in the OECD countries, women account for less than 20% of ICT specialists.  Today, on International Girls in ICT Day, I’m wondering how we can reverse that trend.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at Fairmont Heights High School in Capitol Heights, Maryland.  I had the privilege of talking to dozens of young women who are passionate about technology and are getting trained and certified in IT skills through Cisco’s Networking Academy program.  I also met Ashley Covington, a Networking Academy graduate who is currently a systems administrator for the City of Baltimore public schools.  Ashley told us that she loves her job and “I take pride in my data center.”  That is music to my ears.

The program at Fairmont Heights is unprecedented with 50% of participants being female compared to most programs with about 20% female participation.  These young women, ranging from 9th-12th grade, are gaining hands on experience and technology certificates that put them on par with, if not surpassing, some college graduates.  They recognize that the world in front of them – their future – is about technology.  They want to become 3-D animators, scientists and network designers.  They want to be pioneers.

The challenge before us is to figure out how to inspire more young women like those as Fairmont Heights.  The program at this school has flourished under the tutelage of a passionate young teacher, Mr. Cullen White, and under the leadership of Principal Nakia Nicholson.  How do we recruit more young men and women into the education system so that kids can be exposed – and challenged – by people they can relate to?  How do we use the success stories of women like Ashley to inspire other girls to enter a program like NetAcad?  How do we get them to stay in?

International Girls Day in ICT is a good time to think about these questions.  Today, Cisco is running local events at more than 80 offices around the world with senior executives and female employees. More than 1,000 girls of the age between 14-18 will visit our offices and see first-hand about the opportunities in front of them. Together, they will discuss how to enter a career in the ICT sector and why it is a good thing for women to think of technology as a key to their future career.

The young women I met yesterday told me that the NetAcad program is challenging their minds and broadening their horizons.   When was the last time you heard a young women utter those words regarding science and technology?  Hopefully with more instructors like Cullen White at schools like Fairmont Heights, we will get to a point where we no longer need “girls days” in the future.  A future that includes a diverse workforce and girls flooding the market with skills in technology.  After what I witnessed yesterday, I’m betting the next killer app might even be created by one of these girls.







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  1. What a great campagin!

  2. This program sounds wonderful! How can I get my school involved? We are a magnet school for STEM with grades 6-12.

  3. Girls and careers in information communications technology (ICT). A contradiction? … Though it’s not true, some may believe in it – an outdated stereotype.

    Mindsets need to be changed, across demographic profiles to motivate more girls into ICT! … and would be a gradual process!

    Cisco with it’s learning initiatives – including learning events and the NetAcademy with its ecosystem of partners, dedicated counselors & instructors as well as active support of its Sr.Executives, is wonderfully poised to play a major role in reversing the trend and changing the scenario – in the US and world over.

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  9. Thanks for sharing Blair! Myself and a team of volunteers, hosted ICT Day in NYC for 40 high school female students from the NYC high schools. They are all Cisco Networking Academy students and were thrilled to have participated. As Blair shared above, they are so thirsty for great role models and success stories that we are able to share with them. We had 4 phenomenal Cisco ladies share their humble beginnings, their struggles and success. They shared the importance of taking risks and always following your dreams – no matter what anybody says.

    Hearing from the young ladies at the end of day and knowing the impact 4 hours of our time can have on their lives, keeps us inspired to continue! Having the NYC Board of Education there was key. Not only to leverage our Cisco technology to pursue further opportunities for aspiring IT students, but to see the impact that events like this can have on the young ladies!

  10. What a wonderful program and it is so wonderful that leaders like Blair are active in the community to highlight IT as a career choice for girls. When I was in the US Army there was a program where internal organizations could nominate folks as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Role models. I was proud to be the nominee for Fort Gordon in 2006. We met with young ladies across the country and it was a wonderful experience for both sides. It would be wonderful if Cisco could do a similar program.