I’m writing this blog post sitting at a restaurant on the plaza in front of the Pantheon in Rome. Eating my pizza and sipping a glass of red wine, I noticed the sky and how the clouds were turning pink. It made me smile, since I had just spent three days at a conference called “The Pink Cloud” or “La Nuvola Rosa” in Italian.
La Nuvola Rosa is designed to inspire and encourage more girls and young women to pursue studies in STEM and careers in the ICT industry. Held this year to coincide with the global “Girls in ICT Day” on April 24th, the event is aligned with the Italian National Plan to promote STEM courses for girls to provide them with more job opportunities. It is supported by Microsoft, along with Intel, ASUS, Avanade, Telecom Italia, and a number of organizations including ITU, UN Women, UNESCO and local organizations including Sapienza University and Fondazione Mondo Digitale. La Nuvola Rosa featured panels and workshops featuring women and men working in STEM and the ICT industry, networking opportunities, and even a “Pink Hackathon.”
More than 700 high school girls and young women in university participated in the event across the three days – held in some of the most beautiful buildings in Rome – old and new. The opening “Ted-like talks” (including one I had the opportunity to present) were held at the MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art, while the workshops took place at Sapienza University. We also had a very special opportunity to hold one of the sessions in the Senatorial Palace, followed by a reception with the girls on the terrace at the Capitol overlooking the city. The energy at the event was inspiring and I had the chance to speak with many of the girls and present in a number of sessions, as did my colleagues from the Intel Italy team. We also were able to organize a screening of the film Girl Rising, sponsored by Intel.
Together with other Girls in ICT Day activities planned around the world this week (including a tweet-a-thon in partnership with NCWIT), Intel decided to get involved in La Nuvola Rosa to encourage and support more girls and women to not just be consumers of technology, but to become creators and builders of technology. In many countries, empowering more girls and women to pursue STEM and ICT careers is also critical to help address the serious youth employment issues that exist today. At the conference, McKinsey released a new study which highlighted the critical youth unemployment challenges across Europe and in Italy in particular, and highlighted that the unemployment rate in Italy is significantly higher for young women than young men. In addition to improving opportunities for young women, speakers at the event discussed how increasing the number of women in the ICT industry will also benefit companies – as research has demonstrated that more diverse teams perform better and greater diversity on the product teams is critical, given that the majority of technology purchase decisions are made by women.
Reviewing the research on the gaps and opportunities for investment, at Intel we have identified three main areas where more action and investment is needed. First, we need more hands-on STEM-related activities to engage girls early, particularly at younger ages, such as coding and “Maker” activities to increase interest. We also need more mentors and “peer mentors” to engage girls and women at different stages in their academic careers. One of my favorite aspects of the conference was watching our Intel Italy interns – two talented young women – interact with the participants and be able to share their experiences and passion as they are starting out in the ICT industry. Finally, we need to do a better job of connecting for girls and young women how careers in technology can make a difference in the world – how we can apply technology to drive improvements in education, healthcare, the environment, and empowering people in a fundamental way.
As I spoke with the young women in the final session of the conference, I looked out at them and was heartened by the fact that despite the challenges, the conversation is changing for the better. Companies, governments, and other organizations are recognizing the need to be proactive in engaging girls early to consider ICT careers, and taking action to help provide them with education support and career guidance they will need to be successful in the field. Moving the needle on this issue will not only allow more girls and women to realize their full potential, but also will bring a broader range of talent and perspectives to bear on creating the technology of the future and applying that technology to empower people around the world.
To learn more about our investments to inspire more girls and women to pursue technology and engineering careers, visit www.intel.com/women and @intelinvolved.