Empowering women in technology for a truly equal society says ITU Director

The subject of women in technology has been very close to my heart for many years.

Equality of opportunity in the tech sector is a goal I’ve prioritized during more than 20 years’ working at the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs.

 

‘Empowering women and girls is important to me because equality of opportunity lies at the very heart of a truly equal society in which everyone can flourish and realize their full potential.’

I’ve done that through external initiatives like our global Girls in ICT Day, which is now celebrated in over 170 countries worldwide every fourth Thursday in April.

I’ve done it through internal programmes like ITU’s Gender Task Force, which I set up to try to redress the imbalance of women in senior management roles.

And I’ve done it through launching global partnership activities like the EQUALS Coalition, which I’m very pleased to say also boasts GSMA as one of its five founding members.

Empowering women and girls is important to me because equality of opportunity lies at the very heart of a truly equal society in which everyone can flourish and realize their full potential.

I’ve been asked to spend a little time  sharing my personal story, from a kid growing up in New Jersey, daughter of a Polish American father and an Irish American mother, to the first ever woman to hold elected office in the 154-year history of my organization.

For sure, I’m very proud of that achievement, but I can’t take credit for it alone. To paraphrase one of my heroes, Isaac Newton, if I’ve arrived at a place others didn’t get to, it’s because I’ve been able to springboard off the outstanding work, the tireless efforts, the commitment, the professionalism, and the support of hundreds of past and present colleagues.

‘I very firmly believe that men and boys must never be left out of our work to promote equality.’

Female colleagues, yes. But quite a few male ones, too. I very firmly believe that men and boys must never be left out of our work to promote equality. If we are truly to BE equals, then we must accord equal recognition, and equal support, to all those who strive for change.

This is something I learned from my parents. My mom was a special needs teacher before that role even had its own name. My dad was a paediatrician who believed in healthcare for all, and treated patients based on need, not on their ability to pay. Both of them were absolutely committed to the principles of equality of opportunity and equality of access to basic human services like health and education.

My first tertiary studies were in chemistry. But I quickly found myself spending most of my time in windowless laboratories where the number of other women could be counted on one hand. Remembering what that felt like has fuelled my efforts to change that situation for my own daughters and for the millions of other girls around the world who are passionate about science and technology.

An upbringing which focused on the needs of others eventually led me to join the UN, where my first role was Junior Policy Analyst in ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau – the very bureau I now lead.

Working there, I’ve been privileged over the past 20 or so years to collaborate with some truly outstanding women and men from all cultures, who’ve taught me to listen, to try to see the world from new points of view, and to look for areas of commonality, not difference.

Because it’s from those areas of commonality that we can start to build shared visions, and most importantly forge the partnerships that will help us effect real change.

‘I know some amazing success stories from women now occupying leadership positions that were unthinkable when many of us were starting out.’

Having my own family – a daughter, followed closely by a set of triplets (talk about challenges juggling work/home balance!) – has also been extremely enlightening in teaching me about the way young people naturally embrace technology, about the great things it can bring them, and about the need to protect them – both from addictive behaviours, and from the growing number of online risks.

The world has come a long way since I began my own career. I know some amazing success stories from women now occupying leadership positions that were unthinkable when many of us were starting out.

That we need more women leading tech development is a given.

But I hope you’ll agree that change is not just possible, it’s happening. What was once just talk is now becoming action. And that can only be good for everyone.

This article was adapted from a speech delivered by Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) on 28 February 2019 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

 

The Caption Photo: The Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, Doreen Bogdan-Martin.

 

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