Siobhan Bredin, of EDC’s Education, Employment, and Community Programs, returned recently from the United Nations, where she addressed an international conference on girls and technology. She directs the ITEST Learning Resource Center at EDC, and is a member of the International Taskforce on Women and ICTs. Siobhan shared her thoughts about the worldwide challenge of encouraging young women and girls to pursue careers in science and technology.
“The issues involving girls and technology are different in the developing and developed worlds, yet when we came together, we found common ground. In developing countries the main issue is access, while in the United States and Europe, girls have numerous opportunities in science and technology, yet many are not interested. Rather than an issue of access, we have a marketing challenge—how do we engage girls with technology?
When you get beyond the issue of access in developing countries, you find similar marketing issues around girls’ perceptions of science and technology careers, their self-esteem, and their comfort level with technology.
Across cultures, girls want to do work that helps people. Some girls get turned off from science and technology careers because they believe that technology is cold, removed from the real world.
If we emphasize the human applications of technology, we might be able to change girls’ thinking. In Baltimore and Boston, for example, middle school students use software to map city trees and monitor their health. That information goes to the city database, so the arborist knows which trees to prune or replace. Programs like this change the image of science and technology and can be shared across cultures.
Mentoring is also important. In South India, a program brings groups of women together to form small IT businesses and offers them mentoring by successful women. As the new businesses take hold, the owners became mentors themselves. So, a woman living next door might say, ‘She does that work, and she didn’t finish high school—maybe I can do something like that too.’
I came away from the UN energized. Increasing opportunities for girls and women is an international priority. It was an honor to speak there, to be with people from all over the world, speaking in all different languages. It reaffirmed our deep connections to people all over the world.”
Originally published on April 30, 2007