To celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, we at UNDP Kyrgyzstan are reaching out to innovators across Europe and Central Asia to promote our mission to achieve gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and honor the STEM champions, leading an inclusive digital transformation.
Why does STEM matter for gender equality?
Despite the job losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, demand for workers in STEM fields has increased, and it is expected to grow even faster in the near future. Recently Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS, announced in her keynote speech at the UNDP regional conference on STEM and gender equality, that “an increase in STEM employment would help reduce labour market shortages – in the EU, for example, closing the gender gap in STEM could lead to an additional 1.2 million jobs. The higher productivity of STEM jobs can lead to higher wages. […] More women graduating in STEM subjects and choosing careers in higher-wage sectors can gradually increase their average earnings, helping to close the gender wage gap”.
According to the “Jobs Landscape 2022” study conducted by the World Economic Forum (2018), the future of work in the Industry 4.0 (referring to the fourth industrial revolution) will be STEM-heavy. It is estimated that there will be 133 million new jobs emerging based on the growing demand (data analysts, AI and machine learning specialists, Big Data specialists, etc.). Nevertheless, these fields are still primarily dominated by men.
“Leaving behind women, who are significantly underrepresented in STEM occupations, means denying half of humanity the opportunity to enter and succeed in this high-growth sector that powers the green and digital transformation in COVID-19 response.”
Mirjana Spoljaric Egger
What have we done in Central Asia and the CIS region?
UNDP Kyrgyzstan together with the UNDP Istanbul Regional Office and the STEM4ALL platform organized a successful Regional Conference: STEM4ALL Accelerating gender equality in September 2021. UNDP’s Accelerator Labs in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan actively participated with a series of presentations. We were honored to have the opening remarks from Asel Kenenbaeva, the Deputy Minister of the Digital Development in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the keynote speeches delivered by Dr. Julia Lee, Lecturer of Harvard University, and Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS. We are also thrilled to report a high-level of engagement – 196 people participated in the conference (70% from the public; 30% from UNDP) and 19 speakers delivered talks on their best practices.
The conference agenda was designed in such a way as to include a diverse group of stakeholders to capture different perspectives (global, regional, national, and grassroots ones). As for UNDP, we took on an observer role – practicing deep listening to take stock of the various voices and stories.
Following the conference, the Accelerator Lab at UNDP Kyrgyzstan conducted a storytelling campaign with gender champions as a tribute to the International Day of the Girl Child. Our gender champions shared their inspiring stories to empower more women and girls to realize their STEM potential. I personally believe that storytelling can be a powerful tool to inspire more women and girls, whom we can touch emotionally. The ultimate goal of such storytelling campaigns is not about UNDP telling stories, but about women sharing their own stories with each other. Continuing this discussion and raising public awareness through innovative communication is vital.
What have we learnt so far?
Thanks to our regional conference, we learned about the phenomenon of the “leaky pipeline,” described by Dr. Julia Lee. She noted that we cannot simply encourage more women and girls to join STEM fields unless we address the systemic problems at each stage of their journey (along the “pipeline”). Thus, we can only address gender equality issues by using a systems approach. We heard from Tara Chklovski, CEO of Technovation, about what it means to empower girls to become technology leaders, based on her 15 years of experience. Another speaker Dr. Radenka Krsmanovic Whiffen shared best practices on how to build a regional network of women in STEM. We also learned about different best practices at the country level (mentorship, behavioural insights, etc.). Most importantly, we learned about both the struggles and opportunities shared by our champions working on a grassroots level. Bringing all these stakeholders to the table and practicing deep-listening (empathetic learning) was critical for UNDP to tap into the root of the problems.
You can listen to all the talks on UNDP Kyrgyzstan’s YouTube channel.
Watch the full conference here.
What are we doing right now?
Moving forward, we want to continue the momentum for change. The “Action Tree”  I designed and experimented with during the conference was deployed as a tool to involve the conference participants in future collaborations. In this way, we’ve engaged nearly 70 professionals to kick start our Community of Practices (CoP), a growing network for collaboration. The Accelerator Labs are truly accelerating UNDP’s regional platform STEM4ALL through leveraging collective intelligence.
We encourage any professionals, who are interested in STEM4ALL, to join our network of CoP. The purpose of this network is to provide the space for collaboration across the Europe and Central Asia region to pool ideas and resources to promote the participation of girls and women in STEM. To move this initiative forward, we are planning a series of working groups that fall under the four pillars presented at the conference: Communications, Research, Project Activities and Opportunities for Girls.
If you’d like to join, please complete this form, and we will be in touch with details regarding the next steps to continue advocating for STEM4ALL.
Furthermore, we are also looking for professionals who would also be interested in (co-)chairing our upcoming four working groups on a volunteer basis until June 30, 2022. Please indicate your interest by sending your resume along with your field of interest to Tiffany Sprague, STEM4ALL platform coordinator, by October 25, 2021.
For inquiries and partnership opportunities, please contact focal points of the organizing team:
- Tiffany Sprague, STEM4ALL platform coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jenny Jenish kyzy (Ensi Tszie), Accelerator Lab UNDP: email@example.com