Out of the total female student population enrolled in higher education globally, only around 30 percent have chosen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related fields of study. Of this 30 percent, only 3 percent opt for information and communication technologies (ICT) disciplines.
In Kazakhstan, at ICT faculties only 32 percent of students are women. In contrast, labour market statistics show that women prevail in education and health (over 70 percent).
Long-standing gender stereotypes and social norms constrain girls' interest in STEM-related fields. More importantly perhaps, women leaders in these fields are few and far between, those who could, by personal example, become role models and inspire other women to pursue careers in technology and knowledge-intensive industries.
On the eve of the International Day of Girls in ICT, which is marked annually on the fourth Thursday of April, we interviewed three Kazakhstani girls, who are successful in the technology field. We hope they will serve as role models for the many girls who dream of forging a career in the ICT field, but do not dare to do tread on this pathway because of entrenched beliefs or stereotypes.
Nazerke Aibar, Partner Relations Manager, Facebook
In my opinion, there are several reasons why more girls should consider a career in technology. First, it opens up opportunities for personal and professional growth. It is hard to imagine a future world without technology, and professions in the ICT field provide excellent opportunities for employment and good pay and benefits. In addition, a greater representation of girls in STEM will contribute to reducing gender inequalities in society.
However, today, despite many government initiatives, significant barriers to girls' participation in the field of ICT still exist. In my opinion, existing gender stereotypes that revolve in part around social roles are one of the main barriers.
Other impediments include the relatively low investment in the infrastructure of educational institutions and insufficient support for specialists, who have chosen a research career.
On the positive front, nowadays, the global labour market and education are becoming more accessible than ever before thanks to the Internet. First and foremost, a girl needs to believe in herself, to set achievable goals and to move towards achieving them daily, day in, day out. If you follow these principles, I am sure you will realize your goals and aspirations!
Damel Mektepbaeva, Biotechnologist, Nazarbayev University, Department of Innovation Ecosystem Development
One of the key incentives to attract girls to knowledge-intensive industries is the availability of successful role models, giving girls great confidence that they have a successful career in ICT. In general, gender equality in science is beneficial for everyone. Research shows that gender-balanced teams are more likely to generate innovative solutions or products. And don’t forget that women comprise half the Earth’s population.
By opening up access to the STEM field and supporting girls who choose this path, we are opening up opportunities for millions of new ideas and projects that will be useful for everyone.
However, several obstacles are impeding this vision. Most often, the barrier is stereotypical thinking that asserts a woman cannot think strategically and be a leader. My surveys among girls confirm that such thoughts appear from high school days. That’s why it’s hard to overestimate the importance of having role models around us that can motivate and inspire.
My personal motivation was my family. My mother is a true innovator, ready to learn non-stop. When I went to study in the US, she learned computer skills on her own and used to send me recipes for my favorite home meals by e-mail and learned to use Skype so that we could communicate. The example she set repeatedly demonstrated that any idea can be realized that there is no place for apprehension and anxiety. I am eternally grateful for her support.
However, realizing that not all girls are so lucky, last year I launched the Sisterhood project, aimed at creating a community of support for girls. I hope that one day such communities will become part of the education system, able to motivate and help millions of girls to realize themselves in science or technology.
Science is not an easy field, but it is always very challenging. It is addictive and the more you learn, the more you want to learn. A tech education will require perseverance, enormous efforts, and emotions, but it will pay off a thousand times. You can always apply your knowledge in a wide variety of areas of life and work wherever you want. Therefore, my main advice is not to be afraid, forge ahead, imagine new projects, change the world around you for the better. I believe in the girls of Kazakhstan, and every day I see a huge potential in every girl next to me.
Togzhan Sultan, Data Scientist, RationalAI
Time after time, research has proven that diversity at work leads to more creative solutions and a new way of looking at problems. And if this approach can be applied in any country and in any industry, in Kazakhstan we have only just begun to realize the potential of girls in STEM. Historically established gender stereotypes and roles in our society force girls to take the wrong road of life and choose positions that are convenient for others, whether in the family, in school or at work. But the situation is changing, and successful examples of girls who have built a career in technology serve as an incentive for many others.
Looking back, I realize that I was very lucky to have teachers who encouraged my interest in technical subjects. They noticed my abilities, supported my ambitions and helped me to make the right choice. The support of my environment encouraged me to develop my skills in tech and encouraged to move into the tech field. Don’t be afraid to have aspirations and fulfil your dreams, it is important to work hard, to strive with maximum effort, and everything will work out!
About the International “Girls in ICT” day
The “Girls in ICT” Day was established by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union, Geneva, on 8 April 2011 to highlight the need to promote career opportunities for girls and women in technology, the world's fastest growing sector.
“Girls in ICT” Day encourages girls to choose a profession based not on stereotypes, but on their personal interests and abilities. It encourages interest in technology, computer science, the new communication environment and technology. It also provides opportunities for girls to make useful contacts for their future careers and to follow the example of women in leadership positions.