An Opportunity for a Better World
This autumn, my team and I were delighted to learn that the Fundación Esperanza Pertusa selected Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF)’s Girls4Tech program in Kenya to partner with. The organization invited me to deliver the keynote speech at their annual Women4Change event in October.
In recent years, I have had to become more and more selective about how many speaking engagements I accept, for the simple reason that I cannot be in more than one place at a time. Also, over the years, jet lag has sometimes gotten the better part of me. So lately, I have been delegating many speaking engagements to other YTF staff members. However, this invitation was somewhat intriguing; a global fashion brand with a true commitment to social responsibility. Doesn’t get much better than that.
The Fundación Esperanza Pertusa’s focus on human development with an emphasis on gender in education and entrepreneurship is very much in line with YTF’s work. Women control 70% of consumer spending, and enabling girls and women (who represent half of the world’s population) to fully participate in STEM has important economic benefits. Training in STEM can help them develop skills and improve their earning potential. As a result, the STEM talent pool expands, fueling competition and innovation and ultimately strengthening the global economy.
In 2016, the World Economic Forum reported a worldwide 47% gender gap in STEM: a deficit in the number of women versus men studying to enter STEM careers. The gender gap is driven partly by negative stereotypes and partly by a shortage of female role models to inspire girls with an aptitude in these fields.
This year’s Women4Change program focused on how to promote creativity and innovation and how to inspire girls to pursue STEM-related careers. In the briefings leading up to the event, I was told that in addition to presenting on a panel at the Royal Engineering Academy in Madrid, I will be keynoting at an event in which the audience will be more than 1,200 teenagers, mostly girls.
As a mother of 3 daughters myself, I have seen first-hand the impact of gender bias on girls’ affinity for STEM education. I am devoted to turning a generation of tech-savvy girls, all of whom are growing up in this digital age, into the leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow’s economy. It is my goal to inspire girls and women around the world to seek, explore, and benefit from the many opportunities that technology affords. Also, I thought it would be a wonderful trip for my 14-year-old daughter, who coincidentally was on fall break from school. It was her first visit to Spain and my second.
We arrived in Madrid in the early hours on Monday, October 22nd only to face what turned out to be a longer-than-expected layover. We wiled away the hours by going on taste fests at different coffee and pastry shops, as well as doing a little bit of reading and people-watching and brushing up on our Spanish (thanks to Duolingo!). What was strikingly similar to another big city like Lagos was the unreliability of the connecting flight. The flight was scheduled and rescheduled several times, and no one really knew when the flight would actually leave (though we all had tickets with a confirmed time). One stark difference was that people just waited around. Hardly anyone complained, and no fights broke out. People seemed pretty content just waiting, and waiting patiently. Finally, after about a 4-hour delay, we arrived in beautiful, sunny Alicante.
On the 23rd, I visited the corporate headquarters of Gioseppo and met the company founders and senior leadership team. I spoke about our work in Kenya and the impact that their support will have on the program. Gioseppo is a family business founded by José Navarro and his son José Miguel Navarro Pertusa in 1991. I was inspired by the story of how the company was founded. I became even more impressed as I learned about the family’s strengths, the challenges that they are facing in their industry, and their thoughts about the market disruptions that will result from new design techniques utilizing technologies such as 3D printing. Today, Gioseppo is an international company with a presence in more than 80 countries. It has more than 10,000 points of sale around the world and produces more than 3 million pairs of shoes per year.
On October 24, I delivered the keynote address at the Women4Change meeting. The attendees included such dignitaries as José Navarro (CEO of Gioseppo), Esperanza Pertusa (President of the Fundación Esperanza Pertusa), Mr. Luis Barcala (the Mayor of the City of Alicante), several government officials, and academics from universities including Spain’s National University of Distance Learning (UNED) and the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Also attending were more than 1,200 teenagers who gathered to hear my personal story as well as to learn about the importance of girls in STEM all over the world and why programs like Girls4Tech are critical in changing the paradigm.
It was quite an honor to speak and host alongside Dr. Nuria Oliver, a leader in artificial intelligence and Big Data. Dr. Oliver was born in Alicante and currently resides there. I later learned that although Nuria and I both lived in and went to school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and worked at Microsoft during the exact same time, our paths never crossed until now. We reminisced about life at Microsoft, and we talked about the challenges that our young people today face and how technology plays a role in bridging the gap. Other groups like the First Lego League and the organization Power to Code, whose students won the Technovation challenge for Spain, presented. I heard from three 14 year old students Andrea Escortell Ribes, Inés Mut Villanueva and Amelia González Algaba, who participated in the global Technovation Challenge and they narrated how in five months they programmed a mobile application, “Join Us” to combat loneliness in older people. They were finalists of the Valencian Community were chosen as one of the six best senior teams in the world, the first time a Spanish team was selected.
In my keynote address, I stressed the need to rethink educational, learning, and training opportunities for young women. We need to offer high-quality training in STEM, including the new foundational literacies such as digital literacy and coding. We also need to help young women develop skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration, as well as developing the character traits of curiosity and resilience.
The statistics are dire. In Kenya, only 6% of the engineers are women. In the U.S., where almost 50% of the workforce is women, less than 15% of engineers are women. Only 1% of the women surveyed at the Global Consumer Electronics believe that products are being designed with women in mind. Clearly, the benefits of STEM are not equally distributed. The situation in Spain is not much better. Of the Spanish women pursuing college degrees, 54% are studying nursing, education, medicine, law, or psychology. Only 13% are studying engineering or STEM-related courses.
The highlight of my keynote address in Alicante was when one of the teenagers came up to me after my keynote address asked,
“Does that mean that if I don’t study a STEM-related course or follow that track, I can’t change the world?”
“No, not at all,” I responded very quickly. I explained that I admired her bravery in asking me that important question. Then, I reiterated that indeed she should follow her dreams and do what she loves. What she genuinely enjoys because regardless of whether or not she pursues STEM, she can make an impact. This young girl inspired and continues to inspire me.
“It is also about a mindset shift. We want to foster a growth mindset, so that girls go from being passive consumers to becoming active creators. Psychologists have argued that this growth mindset is the new psychology of success.”
Through partnerships and programs like Girls4Tech, YTF is working to empower millions of girls around the world by closing the gender gap in education access, inspiring more girls and women to become creators of technology, and connecting them to opportunities through technology access.
On the 25th of October, we traveled from Alicante to the Royal Academy of Engineering in Madrid, where Dr. Oliver and I presented in panel format to policymakers, diplomats, top scientists, engineers, and businesswomen from across Spain.
In the ensuing discussion, participants talked about cultural stereotypes related to gender and STEM. Many participants felt that these stereotypes are creating problems in Spain and many parts of Europe, not just in African countries such as Kenya and Nigeria.
“A study led by the L’Oréal Foundation in 2015 noted that 63% of people in Spain think that from the moment they’re born, girls are treated like princesses who will never have the ability to access education and/or jobs in science and technology.”
For us, the future belongs to the creators and the innovators: to the people whose ideas and creativity will shape and change our world forever. Many of these people are girls and women.
At Youth for Technology Foundation, we are excited about working with organizations like the Fundación Esperanza Pertusa, that share our goals for turning today’s girls into tomorrow’s leaders. My team and I are grateful for the partnership and look forward to doing so much together in 2019 and beyond.
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Llama la atención. Quizás por la extrañeza del acto. Pocas veces se encuentra a alguien con dos décadas de experiencia…elpais.com