Every year on the fourth Thursday in April, ITU and the global technology community celebrate ‘Girls in ICT Day’, an awareness-raising initiative designed to promote tech careers and studies to a new generation of girls and young women.
Launched by ITU in 2010, the day is part of an international drive to encourage more female students to study STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and consider a career in information and communication technology (ICT).
It aims to counter the chronic global decline in the number of female ICT students, which is in turn contributing to a predicted global shortfall of at least two million ICT jobs which will not be able to be filled through lack of qualified staff.
In OECD countries, female students now account for fewer than 20% of tertiary ICT enrolments, down from nearly 40% back in the 1980s, when computer science courses first appeared on university curricula. Only around 3% of total female graduates study ICT fields, compared with around 10% of male graduates.
This academic gender gap is reflected in the number of female ICT professionals, now estimated at just 20% across the OECD. In Europe, only 9% of app developers are female, only 19% of European ICT managers are women (compared with 45% women managers in other service sectors), and only 19% of ICT entrepreneurs are women (compared with 54% women in other service sectors), according to figures released by the European Commission.
With strong backing from the tech sector and national governments, ‘Girls in ICT Day’ has rapidly grown into a global movement, with an estimated 3,500 events organized in over 140 countries, reaching 111,000 girls, since the event became a fixture on the UN calendar five years ago.
ITU expects events in even more countries, reaching even more girls, this year, and will post information about activities around the world on its Girls in ICT Portal. Organizers are invited to contact email@example.com to share information about Girls in ICT Day celebrations so that event pictures and videos can be included on the portal.
“ICTs are an exciting and rapidly-growing field, offering interesting, important and well-paid job opportunities,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “A career in ICT allows girls to use their creativity, work in international environments, and participate in shaping our future. With 95% of all jobs now having a digital component, digital skills are no longer just an advantage, they’re essential.”
At ITU headquarters, Girls in ICT Day celebrations are this year focused around an event for around 115 Geneva school girls, along with a High-Level Panel debate featuring guest speakers including Maria Klawe of Harvey Mudd College in the US, which has achieved exceptional results in increasing female enrolment in tech studies (intervention by video), Telle Whitney, President & CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, and Judith Owigar, co-founder & President of AkiraChix in Kenya. The full programme is available here, and those who’d like to follow remotely can join the live webcast here.
In addition, five special guest schoolgirls, sponsored by the US Mission (Geneva) and YWCA, and representing Chile, Myanmar, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and South Africa, will be joining local schoolgirls for the day’s activities. Key partners this year include the Novartis Foundation (Principal Sponsor), Lego Education (Content Partner), and the governments of Finland, Poland and the United States.
ITU Regional Offices around the world are also actively promoting Girls in ICT Day 2015, organizing events, partnering with other UN agencies, supporting organizers in their respective regions and hosting competitions. Cisco, a major backer of Girls in ICT Day, is organizing events in more than 50 countries, aiming to reach over 3,000 girls, while Microsoft, a long-time advocate of ICT training through its DigiGirlz programme, is launching its annual Pink Cloud girls in ICT event on April 23rd as part of Milan’s World Expo. In ITU’s home country of Switzerland, ICT regulator OFCOM is organizing its first event at its headquarters in Biel-Bienne, also on April 23rd.
“I invite national governments to consider integrating basic coding skills into their national education curricula, alongside basics like reading, writing and arithmetic,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, which organizes the annual event. “Girls and young women who learn coding, apps development and computer science will have powerful tools at their disposal to drive economic prosperity for themselves, and overall socio-economic development for their communities.”