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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.