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ITU worries over declining female presence in ICT

By Emmanuel Elebeke

The declining female participation in the information and communication technology industry came to the front burner last week as International Telecommunication Union, ITU as commemorated 100 years of International Women’s Day.

Director, DIAS Lab, School of Computer & Communication Sciences, Professor Anastasia Ailamaki, stated that women were the original programmers of ENIAC, the US government’s first ever computer.

While teenage girls now use computers and the Internet at rates similar to boys, he said that girls are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career.

“It wasn’t always so. In the US in the 1980s, for example, young women were earning 37% of computer science degrees; today, that number has fallen to around 20%.

That lack of trained female professionals in turn means that in OECD countries, women now account for under 20% of ICT specialists in OECD countries.

“It also means that most developed countries are forecasting an alarming shortfall in the number of skilled staff to fill upcoming jobs in the ICT sector.”

He quoted the European Union as saying that in 10 years’ time there will be a lack of some 300,000 people to fill ICT jobs in the region; globally, a shortfall he put at the neighborhood of to 1.2 million.

With computer and information systems managers consistently ranked among the top 20 best-paying jobs, on a par with surgeons, orthodontists, airline pilots and lawyers, he wondered why young women are still turning their backs on technology.

ITU’s High-level Panel of experts from government, the ICT industry, the education sector and the media at the event agreed that major problems include a poor perception of the industry among girls, and a lack of inspiring role models.

Finnish Communications Minister Suvi Lindén spoke of a culture of negativity around science and maths that is affecting girls as young as primary level.

Educator Inal Uygur of the International School of Geneva believes that teachers unwittingly or deliberately put girls off technology as a career.

Professor Anastasia Ailamaki, who leads the DIAS Lab at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, observed that male teachers’ envy of young girls’ talents can also sometimes contribute to the declining girls enrollment in technology courses.



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