International Girls in ICT Day 2024: Interview with Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General, ITU

This year’s theme for the Girls in ICT Day celebrations is “Leadership”, underscoring the critical need for strong female role models in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. Can you tell us more about why this is important?

The theme of "Leadership" for Girls in ICT Day is incredibly important because it highlights the need for strong female role models in STEM careers. Unfortunately, societal stereotypes and a lack of visible female role models – especially in senior positions - can deter girls from pursuing careers in STEM fields.

Leadership is essential for promoting diversity and inclusion in the digital sphere, particularly for women and girls. By emphasizing the importance of leadership, we encourage strong female role models who inspire and empower young women and girls to pursue and excel in STEM. We encourage more women and girls to step into leadership roles and break down barriers, helping us build a more inclusive digital future.

What do you see as the main barriers to career advancement beyond junior/support roles?  

One of the key challenges is ensuring that women have equal opportunities to advance in their academic and professional careers. Educational initiatives are crucial, and they're slowly increasing female representation in the tech sector.

Although women are a major part of the global workforce, we are still underrepresented in tech roles, holding less than a third of these jobs and making up only 30% of STEM students. This gap extends to the top, where just 1 in 8 women hold C-suite STEM positions.

Mentorship and networking are vital in reversing this trend, as they help build confidence and leadership skills. Organizations and companies also have a role in tackling unconscious bias through more inclusive policies and training, and by creating environments that support diversity at all levels. We still need more visibility of women in senior tech roles, which shows that leadership positions are within reach.

In your opinion, what are some of the most effective strategies to address the leadership gender gap in the STEM fields? What is the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) doing to break down these barriers?

Visibility, awareness, and education are key. We need to ensure that girls and young women have the right access to digital tools and skills. Also, mentorship and networking programs expand opportunities and build the confidence needed for young girls to go into STEM fields. We need a more welcoming environment for STEM - a culture that supports flexible work options and promotes growth and career opportunities for all.

Celebrating initiatives like Girls in ICT Day, we encourage participation of women and young girls in STEM fields as well as ensure that women’s contributions to technology are recognized and celebrated on a global scale.

Other ITU-led initiatives include the EQUALS Global Partnership which promotes women's access to digital skills and leadership. EQUALS in Tech is a dedicated group of partners that works with a variety of stakeholders worldwide to promote gender balance in the technology sector. The annual EQUALS in Tech Awards recognize individuals and organizations working towards equal Internet access, digital skills and opportunities for girls and women in tech.

We also have a Her CyberTracks programme designed to address the gender gap in cybersecurity by connecting talented women with mentors and leaders in the industry. The programme includes webinars, technical and soft-skills training courses, and mentorship.

How can our International Gender Champions leverage their influence to empower women and girls to pursue STEM careers and ensure they achieve leadership positions?

So many aspects of today’s world have a digital element – it’s a space that’s evolving very quickly.

Leadership is not just about holding a position of power in this dynamic space – it’s about having a vision, getting others on board with new ideas, and making space for continued change. It also involves ensuring diverse perspectives and creative, increasingly digital solutions are helping to effect positive change.

International Gender Champions can promote initiatives like Girls in ICT Day and raise more awareness about the importance of diversity and inclusion in technology. As inclusive and tech-aware leaders, International Gender Champions can inspire new generations. Together, we can pave the way for a more sustainable, innovative digital future for all.