UN Gender Initiative Program to Increase Number of Women in Tech
From left to right are whurley, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (Executive Director UN Women) and Houlin Zhao (ITU Secretary-General)

A global initiative created by the United Nations ITU and UN Women launched a new program today aimed at increasing the number of women and girls involved in technology by 2030.

The program, entitled EQUALS: The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, aims to bridge the gender gap globally to create equality for women and girls in the tech by providing equal access to technology, offering more opportunities to develop and hone their skills and promoting women to become leaders and entrepreneurs. The ITU is a United Nations agency for information and communication technologies while UN Women is the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment.

These programs in information and communication technologies will work to accelerate efforts to minimize the digital divide such as providing greater internet access and the ability to own mobile phones.

Bridging the gap will be challenging, as ITU estimates there still are 250 million fewer women online than men and the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. The world's least developed countries face the most issues since their gap is at 31%.

The data also demonstrates that in every part of the world, men have greater access to technology. There are still over 1.7 billion women who live in low income and middle-income countries and are not able to own a mobile phone, according to the GSMA, a mobile operators trade group.

The two agencies are encouraging collaboration from private companies, governments and community members to contribute and help empower women and girls.

"It's time to make the world more equal," said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General in a statement. "Big challenges like these require better data, just as global problems require global action."

The UN programs are working together with whurley (aka William Hurley), who has been advocating for women in STEM for several years and has founded two companies, including Honest Dollar, an Austin-based startup which provided retirement plans for small and medium businesses and was acquired by Goldman Sachs in March.

He believes that more men should lead efforts to encourage gender equality and has been working with the UN ITU since the British Airways UnGrounded flight, a think tank where innovators collaborated on a flight from Silicon Valley in California to London.

"Since then I've become friends with most of the ITU staff, so I jumped on the opportunity," whurley told TheStreet. "I think my gender does play an important role. All too often efforts to help women don't involve men and in many cases the men are a big part of the problem. Creating an organization of women and men to collaborate on solutions just makes more sense in my opinion."

Empowering girls and women with greater technological skills could help improve their ability to earn higher salaries and have greater financial options since women are "significantly left behind in affordable access, digital literacy skills or careers and entrepreneurship," he said. "Women also continue to be abused and harassed through digital technologies far more often than men - greater command of resources and knowledge related to information and communication technologies may help combat this reality."

The plan is not to create a single entity to solve the complicated issues, but to create a "multi-stakeholder partnership that aims to build on existing organizational resources, networks and expertise to bridge the gender gap and to ensure gender equality," whurley said. "This is a collaborative effort that anyone can be involved in by emailing partners@equals.org."

The opportunities to bring and increase diversity to the tech industry can be easily accomplished and the benefits are multi-faceted, said Dom Sagolla, a San Francisco-based editor of Tech Wild and CEO of DollarApp, a mobile application development company.

"Increasing inclusion and equality can multiply a company's bottom line," he said.

In the U.S., a greater emphasis has been placed on females learning and honing engineering and science skills. A good way to start is in the classroom and with community events like hackathons, many of which are free or low cost.

"Girls and women can distinguish themselves by taking the engineer's path through those venues," said Sagolla, who founded a hackathon called Developer Camp in 2007 with whurley. The number of minorities and women attending the annual hackathon has risen each year and in 2016, 40% of the attendees were female with the youngest being 10 years old.

"Whurley and I have been nurturing the idea of 'being equal' for a decade now because it feels like our responsibility," he said. "It is my purpose and vision that technology can enable compassion to lift up society."

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