On Thursday, April 26, I had the honor of speaking at the International Telecommunication Union's event marking Girls in ICT Day in New York. I joined successful, thoughtful and dynamic women to figure out how we can help get more girls and women into ICTs (information and communication technologies). You can watch the event, read about it, see the agenda, and view pictures too.
The statistics reveal how real this digital gender divide is in the United States. The ICT industry accounts for one-sixth of the United States’ gross domestic product, but between 1990 and 2005, only one in four communications jobs created were filled by women. Of all Fortune 500 communications companies, women comprise a mere 15% of top executives. Why should women be left out of a field with such opportunity?
During my panel, Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, said that ICTs could be the key to solving unemployment in Europe. She also spoke passionately about the urgent need to get girls into tech today so that they become tomorrow’s ICT leaders. I agree with her. As I told the conference participants, Dr. King had it right when he wrote from the Birmingham jail: "More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will."
Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, joined us on stage and emphasized the importance of STEM education – science, technology, engineering, math – and mentoring. Geraldine Laybourne, Chairman of Alloy, Inc., expounded on the importance of mentoring and said that men and women have to decide that an organization "is going to be a good place for women."
In New York, I and the other conference participants began a conversation about how to get more girls and women into tech. We decided that: 1) We – women and men working in ICT – need to fight stereotypes that tech careers are for nerds. 2) We need to encourage school-aged girls to focus on math and science. 3) We need to show girls that a tech career is a woman’s career. 4) We need to dispel the media-perpetuated myth that tech is boring. 5) We need to be inspirational role models and encourage our colleagues to do the same. 6) We need to create supportive frameworks in the home and workplace.
The conversation started in New York, but it should continue 365 days a year. I look forward to working with the ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun Touré on his three-year Tech Needs Girls campaign, which focuses on the four "Es": empowerment, equality, education and employment. It is our responsibility to champion, to mentor, and to engage the next generation of ICT leaders.