Happy International Women’s Day!

While women’s participation in STEM study and ICT employment continues to languish, Accenture and Girls Who Code find “digital literacy” the straightest path to equality. For its part, Microsoft is building messaging around the link between STEM study and girls’ career aspirations.

On International Women’s Day it’s important to draw attention to the ongoing need to protect and promote women’s equality. This need is global, but manifests differently in different countries and in different industries. In the tech world, the gender gap is especially persistent, and despite efforts to promote strong women leaders, females continue to be woefully under-represented in the industry – hovering around 20 percent of the workforce in most tech organizations, and alarmingly, in decline as a proportion of the whole (women in computing in the US is expected to drop from 24% today to 22% in 2025, a large drop from 37% in 1995). At the same time, some interesting research by Accenture and Girls Who Code has found that the quickest path to equality is “digital literacy,” defined as “the extent to which both men and women have embraced digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective.” According to the research report, “If governments and businesses can double the pace at which women become digitally fluent, we could reach gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed nations and by 2060 in developing nations.” Broader participation of women in technology fields is good for the economy too: a report from the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) has found that there will be at least 218,000 tech jobs created in the Canadian economy between now and 2020, but few skilled workers to fill them. While Canadian businesses lack access to the IT skills needed for adoption of advanced technology, the report notes that only 6 per cent of Canadian graduates in 2015 were from an IT field. Constituting half the population, women could serve as a huge labour pool; however, they remain an untapped resource, missing opportunity for employment in jobs for the future.

Like many other commentators, ICTC has called for reform of Canadian education policies, including earlier exposure of young learners to computer science education. Sadly, interest in STEM fields continues to languish among young women in particular. Research from the World Economic Forum has found, for example, that the gender gap is alive and well in STEM as only 16 percent of female students graduate from STEM subjects. Over time, there has been much speculation and research into the reasons for this lack of participation: a lack of role models and cultural stereotypes about workers in STEM areas have played their part, as have perceptions that science/technology work lacks the social elements that women thrive on.

Microsoft has another view on this issue, which suggests that young girls may be disinclined towards STEM since they are not able to connect their broad aspirations with the skills they need to make these happen. In celebration of International Women’s Day, Microsoft is sharing a playful Career Explorer tool that links interest in areas like “Arts” “Animals” “Environment” and “Technology” with specific STEM degrees, and generates interesting job options aimed at inspiring girls and women to pursue their passions by developing talents and skills in high demand STEM fields. The goal is change perceptions of STEM study.

To reinforce the links between study and career possibilities, Microsoft has also released a new video (below) challenging girls to stay in STEM so they are empowered to solve the problems they care about most. According to Microsoft, “The video is inspired by the insight that when we tell young people what they can’t do, it often fuels them to pursue those dreams even more.” It’s a short watch that I encourage you to share with the young women you know.




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