Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau) said that men continue to outnumber women in terms of Internet access. In some countries the digital gender divide is growing. The global digital gender divide has a negative impact on people's opportunities and undermines the potential success of programmes aimed at achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). ‘Failure to mainstream gender into ICT policy, products, services, and international education risks widening the digital divides that already exist between the information rich and the information poor,’ she said. Bogdan-Martin invited all governments, companies, universities, NGOs, and ‘everyone dedicated to gender equality’ to work with together with ITU with the goal to ‘leave no one behind’.
Ms Sarah Clatterbuck (Director of Engineering, YouTube-Google) said that without representation of women, technology is developed with gender bias which has grave implications for women in society. Biases are shown in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. AI has shown that facial recognition has a 1% error rate for light-skinned men and a 35% error for dark-skinned women. Underrepresentation of women in technology represents an economic opportunity issue. Learning computational thinking does not require access to computers. Logic, statistics, algorithm design, or accessible concepts can be introduced to children of all genders and incomes.
Ms Limor Shmerling Magazanik (Managing Director, Israel Tech Policy Institute) said that the key to getting more women into tech is a supportive environment and encouragement from early schooling to senior management, using a ‘different yet equal’ approach. Workplaces and education frameworks were designed by and for men. In 2014, Israel had 20% female students in high-tech professions down from 40% 25 years ago. ‘Israel's government goal now is to reach 40% women students in high-tech professions again,’ said Magazanik.
Dr Madeleine Scherb (President, Health and Environment Program) noted that women in most developing countries, particularly in Africa, have insufficient economic, financial, material, intellectual, and human resources in comparison to men. To achieve the SDGs, women must invest a lot of their time in catching up. It is time to bring economic freedom to women in ICT. ‘Strengthening women's skills is a wish to guarantee access for all, and by all in this globalized world,’ concluded Scherb.
Ms Monique Morrow (President and Co-Founder, Humanized Internet) emphasised that IT is the worst industry for gender equality. She provided some statistics:
In the USA, just 5% of tech start-ups are owned by women.
In the UK, 5% of women are in a technology leadership role.
Women's median annual earnings remain about 20% below men's.
‘Women are not broken. Technical men are not the problem. We do have societal bias before us,’ she said. It is important to start ICT education in kindergarten where little girls can play with science, be curious, explore, relate, and invent.
Prof. Alfredo Ronchi (Secretary General, EC MEDICI Framework) spoke about the risks of chatrooms and social media, where cybercriminals find a proactive environment. Today, women have a rich set of technologies which helps them protect themselves from the basic threats from mobile phones, geolocation, and CCTV. They also have specific apps protecting them in the case of sexual harassment or any other abuse. He noted the challenge of ‘revenge porn’ persisting today, saying that there is an urgent need to foster cybersecurity, starting with kids.
Ms Maya Plentz (Innovation Policy Advisor, European Commission) said that a collective effort from multilateral organisations, governments, and the private sector should continue emphasising the importance of having women in decision-making positions in the technology sector. In big tech companies, there is the possibility to use AI to ‘uncover and categorise’ the participation of women in their corporate structures. The pay gap between men and women is one of today's pressing questions. ‘So we should really work on making sure that public funds and venture capital supports the new entrepreneur, the ‘elderpreneur,’ said Plentz.
Mr Salar Shahna (President, World VR Forum, World VR Forum) said that virtual reality (VR) is an opportunity for girls and women to join the industry. In their lab, young girls have shown their enthusiasm and interest for coding. The coding space hosted Emmy Jolie and Cecilia Charboneau who have inspired all the present. One of the biggest challenges is education. He noted that it is important to include women ‘not because they are women’ but because of the great work that they do.
Ms Joyce Dogniez [Chair (EQUALS) - Vice President of Community Engagement and Development, EQUALS Global Partnership- Internet Society]. gave an example of the Internet Society and the Association for Progressive Communications working together to increase women’s involvement in community networks and enhance policy to allow community networks to access other spectrums and ensure more widespread access for women in local communities. The leadership coalition course on business and leadership provides women with knowledge in technology skills. She invited mutual action and sharing of best practices for effective collaboration.
Mr Kenneth Herman (Director of Technology Programming, Aspire Artemis Foundation) said that the lack of visible female representation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is making it difficult for women and girls to get involved in the tech field. The Foundation encourages women and girls to become directly involved with STEM. They work with women in different regions and are highlighting success stories of women and girls in order for them ‘to see what they can be’. The Foundation also recognised the importance of integrating arts, education, and culture into their programmes.
By Aida Mahmutović