Empowering Girls and Young Women in the Information and Communication Technologies(ICT) Sector

Bringing together our Members, Partners, and Networks to celebrate Girls in ICT Day, we explored how together, we can create more gender parity in this field.

On the 10th Anniversary of the International Girls in ICT Day, a day to empower and encourage more girls entering this sector, GAN Global leveraged its network of members and partners from various fields, backgrounds, and countries, to share experiences on how we can attain better gender balance for future-proof roles.

“GAN Global is working with our members, partners and country networks to ensure that women and girls are equipped with the digital confidence and skills necessary for an inclusive Future of Work. Together with policymakers, business leaders and women and girls in ICT roles, let us break down barriers in this burgeoning field.” — Nazrene Mannie, Executive Director, GAN Global

In support of an inclusive recovery, we reached out to the following experts, business leaders, policymakers, and practitioners from our network, to gain a diverse perspective and understanding around attracting, supporting, and keeping women in ICT fields:

  • Nazrene Mannie, GAN Global, Executive Director
  • Srinivas Reddy, Chief, Skills & Employability Branch, International Labour Organization (ILO)
  • Andrea Lattanner, Global Program Manager, Microsoft Philanthropies
  • Josh Williams, Coordinator, GAN New Zealand & Principal Consultant, Skills Consulting Group and Norie Ape, Digital Product Manager, Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO)
  • Manon Bosma, Managing Director, Accenture Switzerland
  • Maria Camila Agudelo Salazar, Coordinator, GAN Colombia & Director of Public Affairs, Asociación Nacional de Empresarios de Colombia (ANDI)
  • Gary Workman, Executive Director, GAN Australia & Executive Director, Apprenticeship Employment Network (AEN) and Dr Peta Skujins, Integrated Information Service (IIS), AATIS Director
  • Begoña Sesé de Lucio, Global Success Manager/Digital Product/Chatbot, CEO1Month Adecco Spain, Telecommunications Engineer

The overall objective of having this conversation was to better understand the barriers for girls and women interested in pursuing this field, recognizing the ICT sector as a field yielding economic and social opportunities for future generations, if done so with a gender perspective at hand. This celebration also coincided with the launch of three digital skilling analyses conducted with three Networks — GAN Australia, GAN New Zealand and GAN Colombia as part of a partnership with the Microsoft Philanthropies Skills for Employability project.[1] Through this project, GAN Global is facilitating accessible digital training tools in these three countries.

Access to infrastructure and lifelong learning opportunities

Mr Reddy kicked off the discussion by providing a global context of the main issues at stake that affect girls and women participation in the digital fields. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 3.7 billion people globally do not have access to internet connectivity[2], with the majority represented by women and girls. Universal access is key if we want to bridge the digital divide and empower girls and women to embrace technology.

On recent projects that the ILO is undertaking to support women and digital technology, Mr Reddy referred to the Rebuilding Better project with the JP Morgan Chase Foundation[3], which places digitalisation as a cross-cutting theme to support women owned businesses in Asia. The project supports women entrepreneurs in a hybrid, digitalised format aiming to develop their technical skills. Mr Reddy concluded by highlighting the need for accessibility to continuous cycles of learning.

Microsoft Philanthropies’ Global Skills Initiative and GAN Global’s Skills for Employability Project

Ms Lattanner gave a high-level overview of Microsoft Philanthropies’ Global Skills Initiative.[4] To date, over 30 million people have been skilled as part of its efforts to grow the digital economy during this time of COVID-19 recovery. With digital equity, access to education and livelihood opportunities as the focus areas for this Microsoft initiative, it is important that tools are readily available for those that need to acquire digital skills.

For better inclusion of underserved populations, including women and girls, Microsoft places these users at the centre of its design journey. Working with three GAN Networks in Colombia, Australia, and New Zealand, to analyse its digital landscapes, Ms Lattanner noted that a cross-cutting issue is the need for interactive, hands-on access and role models to get more young girls interested in ICT fields.

In an interview between Mr Williams and Ms Ape, we learned that in New Zealand, women represent only 27% of the ICT workforce. The numbers are even lower for other groups, such as the Maori who represent only 4% of the ICT workforce and Pasifika who represent only 2.8%. These groups are vastly underrepresented in tech fields.

According to Ms Ape, as a representative of the Pasifika minority in the ICT field, programmes that go beyond theory, focusing on the practical skills needed to enter ICT fields can help. According to Mr Williams, in New Zealand, “there is a growing call from ICT employers and the industry overall to grow new and inclusive pathways to ICT careers.” This demand is part of the engine that drove GAN Global’s Skills for Employability project with Microsoft and GAN New Zealand.

Accenture study on women in ICT

When Ms Bosma started her career 25 years ago, she had no idea what ICT fields entailed and was considered a “reluctant hire” at the boutique consulting firm she joined straight out of university. Since then, the company and ICT sector have come a long way in integrating more women in this field. According to one Accenture study[5], 25% of graduates in this field are women, with the representation getting smaller due to dropouts along the career pathway. Women are 2.5x more likely to drop tech roles than other roles before the age of 35. This is due to a lack of inclusive cultures in college and work, along with policies and practices that do not allow women to feel equal and empowered in their positions.

There are opportunities however to filter more women towards this sector. Tech roles have skyrocketed by 338%, with more diverse and newer roles, and digital fluency being recognised as the currency of the future. For the first time in its history, Accenture now has two women holding the prime positions of CEO and CFO, changing the tone, and shifting the culture for women. Having role models with women in top leadership positions is critical in changing corporate practices. This can either exacerbate the gender divide or lessen it.

Today, Accenture aims for a 50/50 gender balance by 2025[6]. One way the company aims to attract more women to the company, is by exploring different personas that are relatable to and engage a diverse talent pool. In terms of retention rates, Ms Bosma noted that e.g. digitalised learning opportunities have levelled the playing field by increasing accessibility for women. Throughout the career lifecycle, Accenture is aiming higher than 50/50 for women at entry level, skewing more towards 60% women hires, acknowledging the higher dropout rate for women, later during their careers.

A focus on soft skills can help the next generation of women adapt to future roles

The introductory message from Ms Agudelo to young women grappling with what to study or pursue is to realise first the opportunities that lie ahead. You do not have to pursue traditional roles that your parents might push you towards and working on soft skills can help us to cope with the many roles that we may have to shift into during our lifetimes. As we do not yet know the jobs that will arise in 25 years, it is wise to have the soft skills necessary to plan for an unknown future.

As part of the GAN Global’s Skills for Employability Project with Microsoft, GAN Colombia found that technology has enabled the country to reach the most underserved groups, including indigenous and disabled populations. Through this project, GAN Colombia is working with ProTalento in Latin America, a skills accelerator in the world of technology, to enable diverse groups to access career guidance and vital information needed to make informed decisions about career pathways. These tools for young women and other groups can help them to address the challenges and opportunities in navigating the vast possibilities in ICT fields.

As many young people in Colombia want to go to university, without considering the other options to get into ICT fields, Ms Agudelo recommends incentives to attract youth in digital careers, through other pathways.

The digital skilling landscape in Australia

GAN Australia, as part of the Skills for Employability Project with Microsoft, found that digital skills are the 4th most important skill in the country, across all sectors. According to Mr Workman and Dr Skujins, 75% of the fastest growing jobs are in STEM and these jobs are found to be more resilient in today’s pandemic context. 25% of employees entering the STEM fields have a VET qualification. There is a huge demand in these fields with 6.5 million workers needed by 2025.

28% of ICT workers and 17% of those in STEM are women and about half as many female high-school students aspire to careers in these fields. This points to young Australian girls recognising the importance of digital skills early on in their education.

These figures point to positive opportunities in the digital landscape of Australia; however, the analysis also identified the challenges. This includes the country’s lag in digital infrastructure and a lack of access to technologies. With most digital skilling and upskilling occurring online, this represents a significant barrier to disadvantaged communities and people with low digital skills.

A learning mindset will create pathways

Finally, the session concluded with a few inspirational messages from Ms Sesé de Lucio, who decided at 18 years old to go into ICT, precisely because she felt that she did not understand the field enough. She combined her interests in popular technology and people in her studies and then applied for The Adecco Group’s CEO for One Month Programme. After completing this programme, Ms Sesé de Lucio joined the company where she progressed from her initial role as a Product Manager to the Digital Product Team, where she is Global Success Manager of a Chatbot.

Upon joining the Digital Product Team, Ms Sesé de Lucio soon discovered that she was one of many women in the team in this field. The roles filled by women ranged from data scientist to market researcher in AI. Despite the opportunities in this field however, Ms Sesé de Lucio noted the gender bias in the language of data science and the importance of input data and how to train artificial intelligence applications. Her main message for the next generation of women willing to explore this field is to not be afraid to rake risks and to go ahead and try out this emerging field. Because tech and science are not complete without women’s voice and work, and to make them as inclusive as possible, young women need to become part of it and be heard!

[1] Funding is provided by Microsoft Corporation. This material does not necessarily reflect Microsoft’s views or policies, nor does mention of initiatives or organizations imply endorsement by Microsoft.

[2] https://www.itu.int/en/myitu/News/2020/12/11/08/36/Universal-connectivity-urgency-billions-offline-Doreen-Bogdan-Martin [3] https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_767793/lang--en/index.htm

[3] https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_767793/lang--en/index.htm

[4] https://opportunity.linkedin.com/

[5] https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-134/Accenture-A4-GWC-Report-Final1.pdf#zoom=50

[6] https://www.accenture.com/ch-en/about/inclusion-diversity/gender-equality

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