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International Women’s Day 2011
Do role models really matter?
Photo credit: AFP

Participants and panellists exchange views

What is ITU going to do about the declining female participation in the information and communication technology industry?

Hua Liu, Counsellor (specialized agencies) at China’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva had a proposal. China, Ms Liu said, has the most women of any country in the world, so there is great potential if we can harness their capacities. “ITU will play an important role in bridging the gap between women and men in the field of ICT, and I hope that this will include compiling success stories, best practices and effective policies from other countries so that we can learn from them,” Ms Liu suggested.

Ambassador Sylvia Poll, Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, highlighted the challenge of getting women into leadership positions. Ms Poll, who was twice named Best Athlete of Latin America (1987 and 1988), won the silver medal in Swimming (Women’s 200-metre freestyle) at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, in the Republic of Korea.

She recalled the time when she was training as an athlete. “In those days, women were not encouraged to do sports, and even less to be faster and stronger than men. But a big advantage was that I was judged according to the time on a stopwatch, and a stopwatch doesn’t know if a man or a woman is competing.” Her mother encouraged her saying “You can be whatever you want to be. If you swim faster than others, even if they are boys, don’t feel bad about it”. She underlined that encouragement by parents is very important because parents are the first role models. “Is anything being done by industry with regard to educating parents about fostering their children’s aspirations? And is there a DigiGirlz programme in Costa Rica?,” she asked.

Alethea Lodge-Clarke: Yes, indeed there is a DigiGirlz programme in Costa Rica. DigiGirlz is now worldwide. It started with 30 girls and now has over 4000. Wherever Microsoft has a presence, there is an opportunity to host DigiGirlz. Girls can come to the offices and learn about technology, computer sciences and software, and just build their confidence. If you can get them into this type of environment, where they are among their peers, a pep talk can encourage them to pursue their career goals, whether they go into medicine or ICT or something else.

Victor Agnellini: We are trying to do a couple of things and I think they will help. One is the programme I mentioned earlier, which we launched recently with the ambition of serving 13 500 young people of whom 70 per cent will be girls and young women over three years. Alcatel-Lucent Foundation has forged a partnership with World Education, Inc. to implement this USD 6 million global initiative to provide educational and digital skills training opportunities for children and adolescents in several countries around the world. We will be linking this programme to other programmes that we already have in place and targeted for women because we need to retain women in the educational system and offer them opportunities to work with ICT, with the ultimate aim of having an impact on society. In terms of leadership, on the corporate side, if you want to improve something, you need to measure it. One of the things we are doing is measuring gender participation, and we are setting clear objectives for improvement. We are also looking for ways to nurture talent and develop new leadership for the corporate world.

Photo credit: AFP

Minister Matić, what is the thinking behind the new Global Network of Women ICT Decision-Makers, and how will the Network benefit young women?

Jasna Matić: All the women who have made it in the ICT sector have felt a lot of pressure. We want the younger generation to have less pressure. So we thought it would be good to create this Global Network of Women ICT Decision-Makers. The Network is actually based on the ITU’s initiative of holding women’s breakfasts. This has been going on for a number of years now, and we thought it should be a more permanent institution, something that would be active all year round, not just for one hour during ITU events. All the women reacted so well that, in Guadalajara, the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference adopted a resolution that launched the Global Network of Women ICT Decision-Makers.

Minister Lindén, how could we make studying ICT more attractive for girls? Do role models matter?

“In Finland, we have a lot of role models in politics. The bigger issue now is how to get more women leaders in business and in technology.”      

Suvi Lindén In Finland, we have a female President and Prime Minister, and half of the members of Parliament are women. So we have a lot of role models in politics. The bigger issue now is how to get more women leaders in business and in technology. Here, role models are very important. I think it is also a question of attitude, starting with schooling. Peer pressure is important, and the attitudes of adults — both at home and in school — are also influential. Adults often think that technology is for boys, not for girls. Happily, that attitude is changing.

I am happy about the Internet and social media, because they show girls what technology can do. Mobile technology opens up vast opportunities. When you think of games, you think of entertainment, but games are increasingly for learning. There are many ways to get women and girls interested. For example, if you want to create a good game, you need to have creativeness and also an understanding of the technology.

Views were also heard from the International Labour Organization (ILO). Jane Hodges, Director of the ILO Bureau for Gender Equality, remarked that apart from the wonderful examples of individual and corporate commitment, what was the role of the State? Surely one reason why young women are deserting technology is because when they look ahead they see unequal pay between women and men, and different working hours. We have talked about the leaky pipeline, and the importance of role models for girls. What about the 40-year-olds or 50-year-olds who have missed out? What about overall strategies to keep lifelong learning going? Governments have a role to play here, Ms Hodges underlined.

Jasna Matić: I beleive that most countries have regulations for gender equality. In practice, however, conditions somehow turn out to be unequal. I think that there can only be equality of treatment when there is enough pressure from within companies and from within institutions. And that pressure can only be created by women.

Gitanjali Sah: The Indian Government has invested heavily in academic institutions involved in technology, especially the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology established all over India. In 2006, realizing that not too many women were applying, the Government halved the fees and there was a dramatic increase in the number of women applying for technology courses. A second example is the International Indira Gandhi Open University. This is the largest Open University in the world. It is also the fifth largest university in the world. It has not only introduced technology to women, but also has educated a lot of women through long-distance open education programmes.

Photo credit: AFP

The end!

      Space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock thinks that many girls are put off a science career mainly because they see it as boy-oriented. There is an image of a fuddy duddy sort of guy. Girls don’t see themselves, if they are young and glamorous, fitting into that sort of area. We need to encourage them, she says.

The High-Level Panel debate ended with a short film from Euronews’s “Learning World International Women’s Day” programme featuring British space scientist and science communicator Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE. Dr Aderin-Pocock managed to break way beyond the boundaries of the male dominated world, and is now passing on her knowledge and experience to a new generation of star gazers, according to Euronews, who spoke with her in London.

“Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a space scientist. I watched cartoons about space”, said Dr Aderin-Pocock. “I heard about people like Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong, and that gave me the desire to go out there one day. If you grab opportunities and have a dream, you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.”

Dr Aderin-Pocock thinks that many girls are put off a science career mainly because they see it as boy-oriented. There is an image of a fuddy duddy sort of guy. Girls don’t see themselves, if they are young and glamorous, fitting into that sort of area. We need to encourage them, she says.


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