Safe access is key for girls In ICT

Raising visibility for what young women need to succeed in STEM careers
May 09, 2022

This is a post by Will Townsend, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Networking Infrastructure and Security practices at Moor Insights & Strategy

Late last month, Friday, April 28th, heralded this year's Girls in ICT Day. I am personally invested in the annual event, blessed with two daughters pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). My oldest Madeleine completed her degree in computer science and animation at the University of Texas at Dallas in 2021. My youngest Alexis is studying chemical engineering at Texas Tech University and will graduate next year. I’m a proud parent and recognize that my daughter's success is based not only on their study dedication but also access to the Internet and the power of connectivity. However, that is not the case for many young women in rural America and other remote parts of the world. As we exit the pandemic, it shines a bright light on the digital divide, especially as students made the shift to online coursework- something that will remain in place for colleges and universities. Girls in ICT Day represents a powerful mechanism to raise visibility for what is needed for young women to succeed in STEM careers.  

What is Girls in ICT Day?  

Girls in ICT Day has three goals. First, to encourage girls and young women to pursue STEM education. Second, to inspire them to work in STEM careers, and finally, to engage the community and promote collaboration through partnerships. It is an audacious mission, given that STEM has historically been male-dominated globally, and this year's event theme of Access and Safety could not be more appropriate. As previously mentioned, from an access standpoint, many young women cannot participate in online coursework, which places them at a tremendous disadvantage. There must be measures put in place for those who do have access which ensure a safe online experience. Recent geopolitical events highlight the need for further improvements in bolstering cyber defense and privacy measures. Networking infrastructure providers play a significant role in providing safe access. Cisco makes substantial contributions to this end from a solutions perspective and concerning empowerment and inclusion.      

Cisco’s contribution  

I have long admired Cisco’s focus on corporate social responsibility through its many programs and strategic endeavors. With respect to supporting women in technology careers, three initiatives stand out in my mind. First, Cisco’s Networking Academy provides a platform that offers both online training and in-person curriculum at over 12,000 locations globally. The subject areas are diverse and include networking (to no surprise), cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, automation, and more. I witnessed Cisco lean heavily into Academy during the pandemic to provide both women and men the opportunity to reskill as organizations of all sizes pivoted to new ways of conducting business by digitizing operations. However, I believe Academy has made the most impact over the last two years in parts of the world where women are unfortunately not afforded the same education opportunities as men.   

A second initiative worth mentioning is Cisco’s Women Rock-IT. Women Rock-IT is a digital magazine with the mission to inspire girls to study tech and position them for future job opportunities. There are live broadcasts, pre-recorded testimonials, presentations, blogs, and the ability for girls to organize local events. There is also a path back to Cisco Networking Academy that further reinforces the training program's value. Finally, Women of Cisco dates back to 1997 with an internal program called Cisco’s Connected Women that merged a few years ago with an external-facing program called Cisco Empowered Women’s Network. The mission of Connected Women started with the goal of attracting, developing, retaining, and celebrating women within Cisco. This initiative grew from five women to over 4,000 in nearly 40 countries that mentor, speak at events, and participate in community give-back programs. It's a model for other large technology organizations that want to ensure inclusion and empowerment for female employees within its ranks.  

Wrapping up 

To be perfectly candid, I was unaware of the Girls in ICT Day event until recently. A few years ago, Mandy Whaley, a former Cisco DevNet executive, made me aware of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which is heralded as another program to promote the inclusion of young women in tech. As the father of two daughters embarking on STEM careers, I am encouraged for their future success given the multitude of initiatives that exist today. Consequently, I highly recommend that parents with daughters investigate the programs I have shared through the embedded hyperlinks. Given the networking giants ' keen focus on inclusion and diversity, I also recommend that your daughters put Cisco on their respective shortlist of companies to pursue post-grad.    

Will Townsend is the Vice President and Principal Analyst that manages the Networking Infrastructure and Security practices at Moor Insights & Strategy. Mr. Townsend has been featured on NPR, CNBC, NBC’s Today Show, and The Wall Street Journal, providing insights into enterprise networking and 5G. Mr. Townsend is also considered one of the top networking analysts in the world.  



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