This post has contributions from Internet Society TrusteesDesiree Miloshevic, Theresa Swinehart and Narelle Clark.
International Women's Day is March 8, and this year's theme is "Equality for women is progress for all." This sentiment is especially resonant in the technology fields, where recent studies have shown that increased diversity fuels greater innovation, creativity and competitiveness. Even so, numbers of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) remain alarmingly low in some of the world's leading economies.
These figures must change, and these changes must start with us. It's crucial that we help our daughters understand the benefits and value of participating in the technology field. Some of these benefits are well known: according to a recent study, women working in the STEM fields in the U.S. earn 33 percent more on average than counterparts working in non-STEM fields. But other benefits are less apparent: I can speak from experience when I say that, in the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) sector, opportunities abound for collaboration, a deeper connection to community and a strong sense of having a very real impact on your world. Indeed, the rewards of using the most profound technology of our time to make a global impact are innumerable.
The issue of women in ICT came up in a recent conversation I had with several women members of the Internet Society Board of Trustees, all of whom are extremely accomplished in the field. I was interested to hear what lessons they had learned and could share with young women contemplating a profession. Here's what they said:
Lesson 1: There's tremendous power in establishing and building community
After Desiree Miloshevic landed a job in a networking department at an ISP in the early 1990s, she joined Boadicea, a group for women working in digital media in London. "This group, which inspired many women to launch their own Internet start-ups, demonstrated to me the power of building a support infrastructure for women," notes Desiree. Later, as a Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) board member, she helped organize 'Women in Computing' workshops and install wireless Internet antennas on remote islands in the Pacific. Now a senior public policy and international affairs advisor/Europe for Afilias, Desiree continues to see the positive impact of building community, and established an open, informal space for computer programming (www.oosm.org) in Belgrade where women developers teach each other, as well as men, various computing skills.
Lesson 2: Technology isn't just for engineers
The ICT field wasn't a foreseen career path for Theresa Swinehart, senior advisor to the president on global strategy at ICANN. She came to it with a background in international relations, human rights and law. But it's an example of the mix of backgrounds engaged in the ICT sector, which is often perceived to be limited to those with technical experience. But in fact, this sector bridges many industries and underlies almost every social, economic and cultural facet of our lives. "There's a misperception that an ICT career involves a technical education or background, but this isn't the case," adds Theresa. "Because ICT is so pervasive, all backgrounds and expertise are essential. A crucial part of the job is about working to build consensus to bridge diverse views and interests, and the increasing use of mobile is going to open the future up even more to new wonders and opportunities yet unforeseen."
Lesson 3: ICT is actually a 'people' job
Narelle Clark, president of the Internet Society Australia Chapter, spent years working with Females in IT and Telecommunications, which offered mentoring programs and topics of interest to women in the ICT industry. She observes, "In many places, ICT jobs can offer more work flexibility and more money than many other jobs, so they are a great choice for women who want to have a family. Roles are really diverse too: there are many successful women in the ICT field with not only deeply technical jobs requiring analytical thought and the latest in particle physics, but many more women work directly with people--understanding their needs and creatively weaving other women into the global tapestry of modern digital life."
Indeed, if greater diversity fuels greater innovation, we'll all be the beneficiaries of global inclusion in the Internet.
Five Great Resources for Women in Technology
1. Internet Society Community Grants Program: Provides funding annually to projects around the world that will bring technological resources to under-served populations. Applications for 2014 will be accepted from March 3-31, and winners will be announced in June.
2. The Internet Society Fellows to IETF Program: This award enables technologists from developing countries to participate in meetings of the IETF, the premier Internet standards-making body. First-time fellows are paired with an experienced mentor and are given the opportunity to make a positive contribution to IETF work.
3. ABI LeanIn Circles: The Anita Borg Institute and LeanIn.org have partnered to offer support for women pursuing or considering careers as technologists. Circles meet regularly to learn and share together.
4. Systers-IETF: A list for Systers involved in IETF topics -- both technical and specific to women. Open to any woman interested in the IETF, whether she participates only by mail or also in person.
5. Girls in Tech: Girls in Tech (GIT) is a global organization focused on the engagement, education and empowerment of influential women in technology.
For more information and resources, visit www.internetsociety.org/womensday2014.