It’s a fact that can’t be denied: there are, quite simply, far fewer women in technology-related fields then there are men. STEM-focused fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) have been typically underrepresented by the fairer sex for decades, and the gap looks to be growing.
A report released in January 2013 titled “Women and the Web” unveiled some sobering statistics about the current state of women and technology. Here are a few highlights from the report:
- Gender barriers are real. One in five women in India and Egypt believes the Internet is not "appropriate" for them. On average across the developing world, nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet, and the gender gap soars to nearly 45 percent in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.
- Across the surveyed countries, nearly half of respondents used the Web to search for and apply for a job, and 30 percent had used the Internet to earn additional income.
- More than 70 percent of Internet users considered the Internet "liberating" and 85 percent said it "provides more freedom."
- Enabling Internet access for more women and girls in developing countries promises immediate, and immense, benefits. Seeing another 600 million women online would mean that 40 percent of women and girls in developing countries, nearly double the share today, would have access to the transformative power of the Internet. And, it could potentially contribute an estimated US$13 billion to $18 billion to annual GDP across 144 developing countries.
As a result of this report, Intel recently launched the “She Will Connect” initiative, with the focus on reducing the worldwide gender and technology gap. She Will Connect is set to begin initially in Africa by reducing the gender gap for young women by 50 percent over the next three years, then moving on to expanding digital literacy to 5 million women and girls. With this groundbreaking initiative, Intel is testing an innovative new model that integrates increased Internet access with gender and development programming. More from Shelley Esque, vice president of Intel's Corporate Affairs Group and president of the Intel Foundation:
“The Internet has transformed the lives of billions of people. It functions as a gateway to ideas, resources and opportunities that never could have been realized before, but our research shows that girls and women are being left behind. We believe that closing the Internet gender gap has tremendous potential to empower women and enrich their lives as well as all the lives they touch."
Education is seen as a major factor in why women are not choosing technology-focused career options. Emphasis on math and computational learning is best received if begun early, and unfortunately for most K-12 kids, there is an underutilization of these two fields. Unfortunately, math is also typically seen as a “male subject”.
“Although teenage girls are now using computers and the Internet at rates similar to their male peers, they are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career or plan on taking post-secondary technology classes. The National Center for Women & Information Technology reports that of the SAT takers who intend to major in computer and information sciences, the proportion of girls has steadily decreased relative to the proportion of boys, from 20 percent in 2001 to 12 percent in 2006. The total number of these students (boys and girls) has also been decreasing since 2001, when it peaked at 73,466.” - Source
Going right along with the She Will Connect program, Intel also pledged a 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action and is celebrating the United Nations' second International Day of the Girl on October 11. Secretary Hilary Clinton spoke more about closing the gender technology gap at the Clinton Global Initiative 2013 annual meeting:
"When we think about what the world is going to look like in the coming 20 years, we have to do more to make sure that women as well as men, girls as well as boys are empowered to use new technology to further their own aspirations.”
More from the launch of this and other women-centric technology programs from the Clinton Global Initiative 2013 annual meeting from Renee Wittemyer, Intel’s Director of Social Impact:
“What is particularly exciting to me is that we are building on our existing training programs and innovating on the concept of how digital literacy skills can be learned by young women. We are testing new models that integrate increased internet access with gender and development programming. We are developing a new online gaming platform that will enable young women to learn individually or with their peers across devices- mobile phones, tablets, and PCs. We will also provide women with safe, online access to communities and networks through World Pulse, where women can exchange ideas, find support and mentorship, stay connected, and search user-generated content.” – “Behind the Scenes: Launching Intel’s She Will Connect”
In addition to She Will Connect, Intel will also integrate digital literacy with gender and development programming targeting women and girls with the following programs:
- Online Gaming Platform – Intel is developing an online gaming platform to innovate the delivery of digital literacy content through an interactive, engaging approach for smartphones and tablets in a game-infused environment. With the gaming platform, learning can take place in a mediated environment, individually, across devices and in the context of a peer network.
- Peer Network – Intel and World Pulse are working together to integrate World Pulse's digital empowerment training into existing digital literacy programs and connect women to a safe and supportive peer network. Through the World Pulse platform, women can exchange ideas, find support and mentorship, and obtain relevant content tailored for women. This innovative approach will push the field of digital literacy so learning can take place not only as an individual in a shared computing environment but also through peers.
Still have a long way to go
While initiatives like these are definitely moves in the right direction, we still have a long way to go to further integrate women into the STEM fields. Programs like “She Will Connect” are making huge strides towards closing the gender gaps in technology, and we look forward to hearing results from these and other forward-thinking Intel programs.