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.