There are almost 45% fewer women connected to the Internet than men in sub-Saharan Africa, according to studies by Intel.The impact this has on creating a gender balance in science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields (STEM) is significant.
Bernadette Andrietti, vice-president for the sales and marketing group of Intel in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, believes that despite this significant discrepancy in online access, there has been positive change in recent times.
“Three years ago we had very little women involved in engineering. But today we have found that it has improved by 20% over the past few years. Part of this can be ascribed to a more open environment for women. When I was growing up for example, my brother could play with Lego while I was not allowed to. Yet, women are very creative and innovative which make them a perfect fit for engineering roles. So a lot of responsibility comes down to traditional gender roles and how girls are raised,” she says.
Echoing her sentiment is the fact that 65-million girls are not in school today. Intel is working with partners, such as UNESCO to tackle this problem, providing policymakers with tools and resources to drive gender equality in education and ICT policies.
“We need to engage with girls at schools and in communities by exposing them to opportunities in STEM-related fields. Traditionally, women are the driving force behind education in the family and this presents us with a chance to speak directly to them and get them the information they need to start building their skills.”
Andrietti feels that by showing girls at a young age what is possible, companies like Intel and others will start influencing them on how they view and access technology. As it stands, girls, she says, do not think they can become engineers.
“This needs to change. Women are massive consumers but seldom are technology devices designed for them. Just think about the potential that exists for women to design products that can be used by other women. Just seven% of developers worldwide are women. So again you have a situation of women using apps that are not really designed for them.”
The recently published Intel MakeHers report indicates that girls and women involved with making, designing and creating of things with electronic tools, may build stronger interest and skills in computer science and engineering. The report found that bringing another 600-million women online could contribute up to an estimated $18-billion to the annual gross domestic product across 144 developing countries.
“More women is in charge of technology companies than ever. This is showing that the revolution is happening and that these women, both directly and indirectly are influencing other females to pursue careers in STEM fields. For our part, we announced the Diversity in Technology initiative that strives to increase the gender balance on our own teams. Already, we have many achievements of some of the most senior leaders at Intel who happen to be female.”
For her, the solution to address the gender balance is a straightforward one.
“We need to inspire more girls and women to become creators and innovators. We need to help them raise their confidence. I am optimistic for women in the field for years to come. Some amazing things are happening with women in the field. Women are engaging more with technology and are getting more exposure from an education perspective. Now we must build on it and nurture the movement.”