Last Monday on March 7, I had an opportunity to participate in a panel hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the United Nations Office for Partnerships in honor of International Women’s Day. I was joined by leaders in the public and private sector for an interactive discussion about the importance of empowering women and girls. The discourse was lively and focused on how we can collectively help women and girls achieve gender parity, and at the same time make real progress in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as set forth by the United Nations—of which women’s empowerment is a critical piece.
As a mother of three daughters, making sure that girls have access to the best education and opportunities possible is a topic that is close to my heart. In my role as vice president of Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft, I work to form strong public-private partnerships with governments and countries around the world to provide cutting-edge education and access to technology tools, safer and more sustainable communities, better access to healthcare, and a chance for women to achieve gender parity and economic prosperity.
We’ve made it our goal to empower and enable women and girls—from the classroom all the way to the boardroom. We believe that women participating in all fields will help bring about a brighter future.
Investing in girls’ education and skills development
Technology plays a central role in the empowerment of every woman and girl—from providing access to education and economic opportunities, to enabling personal and professional growth, to helping girls find their true passion and place in the world.
One of the most critical ways we can accelerate gender parity is by supporting education and skills development for women and girls. By the end of this decade, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that there will be 1.4 million computer science-based job openings, and that to reach gender parity, women must fill half of these positions. In addition, over 75 percent of all jobs will require some technology skills, signaling the need to equip women and girls with the skills that they need to be competitive in the marketplace.
To encourage girls to pursue studies in computer science-related fields, we take a multi-faceted approach. We promote the study of computer science at traditionally female colleges and other universities. We encourage the study of STEM curricula in schools and help young women develop computational thinking skills.
Through Microsoft YouthSpark, we are investing $75 million in community programs to increase access to computer science education—especially for those from under-represented backgrounds—and to build greater diversity into the tech talent pipeline. This initiative includes programs like DigiGirlz, which helps reduce the gender gap by giving high school girls a chance to learn about careers in technology and participate in technology workshops around the world, and Girls Who Code, which is dedicated to helping girls achieve gender parity in computing fields by 2020. As part of the Girls Who Code summer program, Microsoft hosted more than 100 girls for intensive instruction in computer science and mentorship from top female technology executives.
Microsoft is also a part of Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID), an initiative dedicated to increasing diversity in computer science undergraduates. Participating tech companies—including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft—will donate a combined total of $1.35 million over the next three years to the computer science departments of 15 universities, which have agreed to follow practices used by institutions where almost half of the computer science majors were female. The schools will also provide data for a study on how best to attract and retain female, black, and Hispanic computer science students.
Empowering women to achieve financial inclusion
Financial inclusion is a major part of the effort to help women and girls achieve their ambitions. Internet access is a key component of financial inclusion, and we are working to provide affordable broadband access for all, to promote and protect the digital infrastructure, and to mainstream digital innovations so that women—and all people all over the world—can benefit. Our partnership with the World Bank and other organizations continues to make strides in achieving the recommendations in the World Development Report 2016.
Microsoft has a proud history of investing in organizations that support women such as contracting with women-owned suppliers and assisting women entrepreneurs. We have several programs to help entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses such as Microsoft BizSpark, which provides three years of free software, services, and tech support to startups. Another is the Microsoft Ventures Accelerators program, which provides business mentors and advanced resources to help startups navigate the challenges of launching a company. And, we now have 120 Microsoft Innovation Centers in 33 countries, which provide practical opportunities for entrepreneurs to collaborate with software developers, IT professionals, and academic researchers.
Working to achieve gender parity
Gender parity can profoundly affect the peace and security of communities. Achieving this parity requires respect, gender-balanced leadership, inclusion, and cultural flexibility. Empowered women and girls are at the heart of this effort.
When women are empowered in society, the result is greater innovation and the advancement of local economies—benefits for the individual as well as the larger community.