Inspiring women in ICT: post-covid criteria for narrowing the gender gap

Motivating women to participate in scientific and technological innovation remains a challenge

Looking at UNESCO’s estimate that 75% of jobs will be STEM-related by 2050, the need to develop skills becomes more important than ever. In the past two years alone, with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and conflict-related migration, displacement and disruption have affected the learning and working environments of girls and women. This week I discussed the issue in a panel discussion on “Tackling the Gender Gap: Inspiring Women in ICT” and we reached a consensus on some of the steps that can be taken to address the issue.

“COVID-19 is a major setback for women. It’s going to take 125 years to close the gender gap,” Coursera, Chief Enterprise Officer, Leah Belsky explained about the gravity of the situation, but added that with the right investment and support, the gap can be closed faster. Within STEM, the education areas most dominated by men are ICT and technology, where the number of women is 27% and 28% respectively (UNESCO, 2018). At the current pace, gender equality in STEM will not be achieved before 2100 UN Women† Working in the ICT industry, we see that gender inequality is even more pronounced in advanced areas such as artificial intelligence, where only 22% of professionals worldwide are women. Gender stereotypes and prejudice have been cited as one of the main reasons that hinder ambition in young women, and are worryingly still deeply entrenched in the workplace.

In 2020, only 16.5% of inventors named in international patent applications were women, with an increase of only 3.8% over the past decade (WIPO – March 8, 2021† At this rate, it will take until 2058 to achieve gender equality. Currently, most of these deposits are in life sciences. This gender gap in innovation creates a bias that affects the sustainable development of economies and with new predictive, intuitive technologies such as AI and machine learning, it is essential to have diversity in the design and regulation of technology. So how can the situation be addressed?

World Economic Forum Director, Head of ICT, Isabelle Mauro, explains: “Inclusion is not by desire, but by design” and this means that appropriate strategies and action are required. First, countries are recommended to develop national strategies with actionable roadmaps to increase the participation of women in STEM education. Increase efforts to cultivate top talents in advanced areas and partner with various parties to increase young women’s interest and engagement in STEM, entrepreneurial activities and innovative work.

Second, establish a clear policy on gender discrimination, such as eliminating explicit and implicit gender bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices in science and technology workplaces.

Finally, bridge the digital gender gap by providing universal and affordable access to broadband connectivity networks and cloud services and creating an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment.

At the corporate level, employers from the science and technology community can support and encourage more women to start, maintain, or re-enter a STEM career by providing more flexible benefits for female scientists and technology workers.

As a private company, Huawei is continuously investing to provide more opportunities for women to pursue careers in technology, with the aim of benefiting the industry as a whole and developing our own talent pool. Seeds for the Future, Huawei’s flagship program, has attracted more than 30,000 tech talents from more than 500 top universities in 126 countries worldwide since 2008. In 2020, the average percentage of female participants was around 30% and in many countries worldwide above 50%. We also recently launched HUAWEI Women Developers (HWD), a global program that aims to empower female developers to create applications and tools that can change the world. We believe that women will lead the way in technological innovation and hope that programs such as the HUAWEI Women Developers program will help women better utilize their talents and unique value and give them opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills.

But not only are we dealing with a digital divide in Internet access, but we also face another undeniable challenge: the skills gap. the global“talent shortage”currently sits at 38%, with the top ten most difficult jobs to fill in STEM occupations. There is currently a 200 million people shortage of ICT skilled workers worldwide. In other words, the industry lacks highly talented individuals with the innovative capabilities essential to drive new growth. To bridge this skills gap, we need to understand and teach the skills these young talents need to take full advantage of ongoing technological advancements to help bridge the digital gender gaps worldwide.

Closing the digital divide means helping young people access training and education opportunities in STEM. Insights from Coursera show that women have enrolled in 29% of technical course enrollments, compared to 23% in 2021, and are more likely to enroll in courses taught by female instructors. Women are also 1.7 times more likely than men to enroll in a resilience course than men, 1.3 times more likely to take human computer interaction courses and 1.4 times more likely to take user experience courses. The top five countries to register were Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the US. Some of the top courses women took include computer programming (8.5 million), data analytics, and machine learning (both 7.4 million). Companies such as Huawei are investing to open up more opportunities in this area by collaborating with a number of organizations worldwide on various projects aimed at providing digital skills training to young ICT talents.

Despite the challenges, there is optimism and the importance of support for and among women is essential. Women Who Code, CEO, Alaina Percival, who has founded the community for over a decade, is energized by saying, “With our community of more than 300,000 women, we have recognized that radical transformation is possible.” It is encouraging that there are vacancies to be filled. Huawei will hire more than 10,000 recent graduates this year. It is just one of many global companies in need of skilled talent and leading the way in creating technology that prioritizes the needs of society.

As we pursue multilateral cooperation to address the challenges of skills shortages and the need for diversity, it is also becoming very clear that governments cannot do it alone. We need all actors to work together, governments, companies, investors, cities, regions and even ourselves as individuals united to decarbonise our economy for a better and more sustainable world.

About the author

Afke Schaart is Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at Huawei Technologies.

Featured Image: ©Leungchopan

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