When I walked through the door of my computer science class for the first time, the boys suddenly stopped talking. You could, however, feel them thinking it…
…What is a girl doing in here?
I think one of them may have dropped a pin, because I swear I heard one ring out like a gong against the tile floor, whilst I made my way to an empty desk not too far from the entrance. I was pretty confident in 1987–but, you know, just in case I needed a quick escape.
The boys eventually relaxed about a girl being in “their” class and I think a few of them even thought I was a little bit cool too.
But today, women’s access to technology isn’t about the novelty of being the only girl in a computer class, it’s about women in developing countries who travel under dangerous conditions just to read world news online, or to find virtual networking groups to leave an abusive marriage, or start a business and get access to loans online to help feed the children or to report rape via an App… and all this under real threat from the gender discrimination that exists for women who want access to technology, from their families, their communities or governments.
Access to technology, for women in the developing world, is not just the rising tide that lifts all boats, but a potential tsunami that can carry off centuries of entrenched sexism, abuse and social injustice.
A recent joint research project by the Clinton and Gates Foundations, which analyzed over 850,000 global data points collected over 20 years by the U.N., World Bank and other research and non-profit organizations; revealed that among women in the developing world who can access the internet, 30 percent earned additional income, 45 percent searched for jobs, and 80 percent improved their education.
But while 85 percent of the adult population in the United States has Internet access, with nearly equal access between men and women, the developing world is woefully behind. The Clinton/Gates report also revealed that in the developing world, 200 million fewer women than men use the internet, which is projected to grow to 350 million within three years unless something is done.
To be sure, the women who need technology the most aren’t consumers. They aren’t adding to anyone’s bottom line. Not yet. And that may be why they get little notice from corporate technology giants who are in a position to help the most.
The purpose of business is to create profit; and the notion of corporations involved in human rights and ‘changing the world’ is, at best, in its infancy. Yet, according to The Third Billion by PwC and Strategy&: “… as growing numbers of women enter the economic mainstream, they will have a profound effect on global business. They will take their place in the global economy as consumers, producers, employees and entrepreneurs over the next decade.”
Corporations that acknowledge this shift will realize what a smart business decision they made to invest in women, both internally in terms of diversity programs, and externally in terms of their social responsibility and community efforts.
Empowering women through technology will enable these companies to be the new drivers of economic and social change in the world–with the biggest ripple effect coming from women’s access to technology.
The Aspire Foundation’s recent alliance with global technology company Avanade is one example of how technology corporations can lead the way. Our goal is to impact 1 billion women and girls by 2020 by providing innovative business and technology mentoring to women who work in charities and social enterprises, the very women who are making a difference in the world every day.
The technology giants of the world can, and should, act. If not like Avanade, as a pioneering example of corporate citizenship and prescient business savvy, then out of sheer self-preservation, to hasten the day these women will be the customers, employees and executives of those organizations that helped to bring them into the 21st century and on equal footing.