By Alethea Lodge-Clarke, Public-Private Partnerships Manager, International Organizations, Microsoft

Women and girls are extremely underrepresented in science and technology in the developing and developed world. In the United States, only 18% of computer science degrees are earned by women and only 22% of software engineers at technology companies are women. While information and communications technology (ICT) play an important role in the empowerment of women around the world, women in developed and developing countries face challenges to training and access, which often limits their ability to reach their full professional potential.

In an effort to encourage more women to consider careers in ICTs, Microsoft is supporting the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for its annual Girls in ICT Day on April 25. Girls in ICT Day brings together girls, young women and university students to attend events hosted by ICT companies, NGOs and government agencies around the world. This year, Microsoft is participating in technical workshops that teach skills such as coding, web design, and mobile app development.

Microsoft shares ITU’s belief that to achieve greater equality and education for women in ICTs they need greater access to opportunities. Globally, Microsoft has been involved in several projects to empower women, improve their access to technology and spark interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For example, DigiGirlz, a Microsoft YouthSpark program, provides high school girls with the opportunity to learn careers in technology by interacting with Microsoft employees and receiving computer and technology training. Microsoft is using a similar model of engagement for a soon to be launched portal for North African Women as a part of our company’s 4Afrika Initiative.

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High school student Lizzie Yoo details her DigiGirlz experience in “Diary of a DigiGirl”. The 4Afrika Initiative focuses on three critical areas of development for the continent – world class skills, access and innovation.

Microsoft Research is also committed to bridging the gender gap in computing careers. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology and computer science jobs in the United States, but only 29% of the applicants will be women. To help grow the next generation of women in computing careers, Microsoft Research focuses on four key actions to help bridge the gender gap:

  • Reaching middle and high school girls with tools and programs
  • Partnering with key organizations and top academic institutions to actively engage undergraduates and post-graduates in the field of computer science
  • Raising awareness of the importance of events and mentorships
  • Providing opportunities in computing

To learn more about the effort, watch the Women in Computing Careers at Microsoft Video Series, the Bridging the Gender Gap Video or click here to view the brochure.

In addition, Microsoft in partnership with ITU, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN Women recently released a white paper on getting girls interested in STEM education and careers with a series of recommendations. The whitepaper, “Girls in STEM and ICT Careers: The Path toward Gender Equality,” explores potential solutions to the global challenge of increasing the number of girls interested in STEM subjects.

To improve representation of women in this field, the STEM paper recommends four areas of focus:
  • ICT access and skills
  • Relevance to their lives
  • Empowerment
  • Combating stereotypes about women and girls in science
   
clip_image006 The STEM whitepaper also emphasizes that to overcome these challenges, there is no single solution. But if academia, private enterprise, government and NGOs all work together to change cultural perceptions of STEM subjects and provide ample and inspirational learning opportunities, we should start to see women finally represented more equally in such critical academic and professional fields.

Through our partnerships and programs with organizations like ITU, Microsoft hopes to make an impact on women and girls in providing them with the opportunities and necessary skills needed to be successful in a career in ICT.