Inspiring Women: How to Reduce the Gender Gap in STEM & ICT

ByAfke Schaart

May 23, 2022

Afke Schaart

Motivating women to participate in scientific and technology innovation remains a challenge.  If we consider UNESCO’s estimate that by 2050, 75% of jobs will be related to STEM, then the need to develop skills becomes more critical than ever. With the COVID-19 pandemic, climate-change, and conflict-related migration, displacement and disruption have affected the learning and working environments of girls and women over the last two years.

Earlier this month, I discussed the issue during the panel discussion Addressing the Gender Gap: Inspiring Women in ICT and we reached a consensus about some of the steps that need to be taken.

The current state of play

Pointing out the gravity of the situation, Leah Belsky, Chief Enterprise Officer for Coursera, explained that, “COVID-19 has been a major setback for women. It is going to take 125 years to close the gender gap.” However, she added that with the right investment and support, this gap can be reduced more quickly. 

Within STEM, the most male-dominated educational areas are ICT and engineering, where female enrollment is 27% and 28%, respectively (UNESCO, 2018). According to UN Women, gender parity in STEM will not be achieved before 2100 at the current rate of progress. Working in the ICT industry, we see that the gender imbalance is even more pronounced in cutting-edge fields such as artificial intelligence, where only 22% of professionals worldwide are women. Gender stereotypes and preconceptions that are still deeply embedded in the workplace are cited as major reasons preventing ambitious among young women from entering technology fields.

Gender stereotypes and preconceptions that are still deeply embedded in the workplace are cited as major reasons preventing ambitious among young women from entering technology fields.

In 2020, only 16.5% of inventors named in international patent applications were women, with just a 3.8% increase during the past decade. At this rate, it will take until 2058 to reach gender parity. Currently, most of these filings are in the life sciences. The gender gap in innovation is creating a bias that is impacting the sustainable development of economies. And with new predictive, intuitive technologies such as AI and machine learning, it is essential to have diversity in the design and regulation of technology.

So how can the situation be addressed?

Isabelle Mauro, Director and Head of ICT for the World Economic Forum explained that women continue to be under-represented in the “jobs of the future”, which means that appropriate strategies and action are required.

Three actions

First, countries are recommended to develop national strategies with actionable roadmaps to increase women’s participation in STEM education. Stepping up efforts to cultivate top-notch talent in cutting-edge areas and collaborating with various parties can increase young women’s interest and involvement in STEM, entrepreneurial activities, and innovative work.

Second, set out a clear policy on gender discrimination, such as eliminating explicit and implicit gender biases in recruitment, retention, and promotional practices in scientific and technology workplaces.

Third, bridge the digital gender divide by providing universal and affordable access to broadband connectivity networks and cloud services and create an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment.

At the company level, employers in the scientific and technology community can support and encourage more women to enter, remain or re-join STEM career by providing more flexible working conditions for women scientists and technology workers.

What we are doing

As a private company, Huawei is continuously investing to offer women more opportunities to pursue a career in tech with a view to benefiting the industry overall, as well as developing our own talent pool. Huawei’s Seeds for the Future program has attracted more than 30,000 tech talents from over 500 top universities in 126 countries worldwide since 2008. In 2020, the average percentage of female participants was around 30%, but above 50% in many countries.  

We also run HUAWEI Women Developers (HWD), a global program that aims to empower women developers to create applications and tools that can change the world. We believe that women will lead technological innovation and hope that programs such as the HWD will help women better leverage their talents and unique value, and give them opportunities to demonstrate their leadership abilities.

But we don’t only face a digital divide gap in Internet access, we also face another undeniable challenge: the skills gap. The global “talent shortage” is currently at 38%, with the top ten hardest jobs to fill in STEM professions. There is currently a shortage of 200 million skilled ICT workers around the world that in turn inhibits growth. To bridge this skills gap, we need to understand and teach the skills that young talents need to take full advantage of ongoing technological advances to help bridge digital gender divides worldwide.  

Closing the digital divide means helping young people access training and educational opportunities in STEM. Insights from Coursera show that women enrolled in 29% of courses enrollments in tech compared with 23% in 2021, and are more likely to enroll in courses that are taught by women instructors. Women are also 1.7 times more likely than men to enroll in a course on resilience than men, 1.3 times more likely to opt for courses on human-machine interaction, and 1.4 times more likely for user experience courses.

Based in both Toronto, Canada and Shenzhen, China, the Huawei HMI lab spans areas such as novel interactive systems, sensing technologies, wearables, IoT systems, human factors, computer vision, and multimodal interfaces.

The five top countries for enrolment are Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the US. The top courses women enrolled in include computer programming at 8.5 million, data analysis, and machine learning, both at 7.4 million.

Companies such as Huawei are investing to offer more opportunities in this area by working with a number of organizations worldwide on various projects aiming to bring digital skills training to young ICT talent.

Despite the challenges, there is optimism and the importance of support for and among women is essential. Women Who Code CEO Alaina Percival is energized about the future, “With our community of over 280,000 women we have recognized that radical transformation is possible.”

Tech leaders: Hedy Lamarr, an actress and inventor whose work paved the way to Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth; Ava Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer who wrote an algorithm for a computing machine in the 1800s

Encouragingly, there are jobs to be filled. 

Huawei will hire over 10,000 fresh graduates this year.

We are just one global corporation among many that needs skilled talent at the forefront of creating technology that will benefit society.

As we pursue multilateral cooperation to address challenges of skills shortages and the need for diversity, it is also becoming very clear that governments cannot go it alone. We need all actors to join efforts, governments, businesses, investors, cities, regions, and even ourselves as individuals united to decarbonize our economy for a better and more sustainable world – a world that women will play a crucial role in shaping.


Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.

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Afke Schaart

Senior Vice President, Global Government Affairs, Huawei Afke is responsible for global engagement with international organizations in domains such as sustainability, digital inclusion, and business ethics.

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