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Girls in ICT Day: Preparing the Next Generation for a Digital and Low-Carbon Economy

By Mary de Wysocki

Girls in ICT Day: Preparing the Next Generation for a Digital and Low-Carbon Economy

By Mary de Wysocki

Published 05-16-23

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

Digital image of three people holding up green globes.

International Girls in ICT Day is a global movement encouraging girls and young women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and careers.

Cisco hosts events through our Women Rock-IT program, which began in 2014 and has seen more than two million participants, with over half enrolling in one of our Cisco Networking Academy courses as a result.

Join us on April 27 to hear from women who are working on critical environmental issues like climate change and learn how developing digital skills now can help protect our planet!

At Cisco, we want the future to be sustainable, inclusive, and resilient. To prepare for this future, the global workforce is transitioning to jobs that will focus on finding innovative solutions to some of our biggest challenges, including climate change. We must prepare everyone for the emerging digital and low-carbon economy, particularly young people who will lead the next generation of visionaries.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), by 2030, 9 out of 10 jobs will require digital skills. Many people, including youth and the most economically vulnerable, will need help developing these skills so they can participate in this new economy. For example, a 2020 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that by 2030, some 880 million children globally will not be on track to develop the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.

Another skill set that will be essential in the transition to this new economy: “green skills.” According to a 2022 guide from The International Labor Organization (ILO) for young people, job seekers and those who support them, “The transition to the green economy will inevitably involve destruction of some jobs, but in the same time, the creation of new ones. The ILO estimates that about 100 million new jobs can potentially be created by 2030, leading to a net job creation of 25 million jobs.” And we are already seeing some progress. In the United States, over 100,000 new clean energy jobs were created across the country in just six months after the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law in August 2022. And the same research from Climate Power shows that as of January 31, 2023, there are over 90 new clean energy projects in small towns and bigger cities nationwide totaling $89.5 billion in new investments.

But what exactly are green skills? WEF states, “Green skills are abilities or knowledge a worker can use to prevent, monitor, or clean up pollution, and optimize stewardship and conservation of the natural resources that companies use to produce goods and services.” Green skills will be in demand across different industries, including finance, technology, transportation, and even fashion.

It’s critical that the workforce is prepared to facilitate the digital and low-carbon transition in tandem. We can no longer teach digital skills without also incorporating the realities of how technology can both impact and benefit the environment. Tech is enabling different ways of working and addressing environmental issues — such as apps that collect data about wildfires, IoT devices that monitor the health of the soil on a farm, advances in hardware engineering that make products more energy efficient, or video conferencing tools that support the shift into hybrid work, so people spend less time commuting. All these changes are made possible by technology innovations, and we want to ensure everyone has the skills they need to contribute to this new world.

Why we need girls and women to help drive this new digital and low-carbon economy

According to the Economist, the climate crisis disproportionately impacts girls and women. For example, women and girls are often responsible for securing household essentials like food and water for their families, which becomes more difficult during droughts and other natural disasters that are becoming more common with climate change. And according to the same article, women are less likely to survive natural disasters due to a lack of information or education, not having resources to seek safety, and less access to healthcare.

At the same time, women are taking leadership positions in the field of sustainability. At large companies, 58 percent of sustainability executives are female. And according to the 2022 GreenBiz State of the Profession report, “the number of women in sustainability leadership roles has expanded by close to 20 percentage points in every category since our first survey in 2010.”

Although women are present in manager, director, and vice president roles, when it comes to “green skills” overall, the growth in gender equity seems to stall. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Green Skills Report, there is a global “green gender gap” with 62 women for every 100 men considered green talent in 2021, and this number hasn’t changed since 2015. Why is this happening? According to Fortune, “The technical and engineering jobs that are expected to see the most growth are still very male-dominated. Simply put: STEM fields aren’t making nearly enough progress on the gender front.” According to the UN’s report titled “Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Gender Snapshot 2022”, women make up just 19.9 percent of science and engineering professionals worldwide. The low-carbon economy will need engineers and other creative talent to tackle the climate crisis.

According to The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the four leading causes of the global digital gender divide are: lack of internet access, gaps in digital skills, less representation in STEM fields, and not enough women in tech sector leadership and entrepreneurship.

A 2019 report from McKinsey shows that 40 to 160 million women may need to switch occupations by 2030. If they do not successfully transition to the digital and low-carbon economy, gender inequality in work could worsen. The same report shows there are barriers to reskilling as well, “They have less time to reskill or search for employment because they spend much more time than men on unpaid care work; are less mobile due to physical safety, infrastructure, and legal challenges; and have lower access to digital technology and participation in STEM fields than men.”

Despite these obstacles, the digital and low-carbon economy creates more opportunities for girls and women. According to the ITU, when girls and women are connected and have digital skills, this leads to a positive impact not only for individual women and their families but society as well:

“Giving women and girls access to the Internet and the skills to use digital technologies provides them the opportunity to start new businesses, sell products to new markets, find better-paid jobs and access education, health and financial services, as well as to enhance participation in public life and improve information exchange.”

And according to a 2021 Boston Consulting Group study, if women participated in STEM fields at the same level as men, the low-carbon economy could “yield a total reduction from 2020 through 2050 of 12.7 gigatons of CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent], or roughly 0.5 gigaton annually.” This is the equivalent of taking over 107 million gasoline-powered cars off the road each year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. So clearly, these benefits extend to the health of planet Earth as well.

By increasing women’s access to STEM fields, not only are we supporting research that shows gender diverse teams are more innovative, but this boost in innovation can help us deal with some of our biggest challenges, including climate change. Women have the right to reap the personal benefits of digital and green skills (like more pay and better benefits) while also playing an essential role in unlocking solutions for issues that impact all of us.

How Cisco’s technology and ecosystem are involved

Cisco’s technology and ecosystem can play a role in the twin transition to a digital and low-carbon economy. It starts with our company’s purpose to Power an Inclusive Future for All. We see the digital and low-carbon transition working in tandem to create a more inclusive and sustainable future.

When it comes to our employees, we see first-hand women who emerge in the digital and green workforce, like Beth Kochuparambil, Technical Leader in Cisco’s Common Hardware Group. As a hardware engineer, Beth focuses on how our products balance power and performance through product energy efficiency. There’s also Julie Boegner, a leader in our Partner Specializations organization, and Karin Surber, who leads partner incentive teams. Together, they launched the Environmental Sustainability Specialization and Takeback Incentive for Cisco partners. Environmental Sustainability Specialization recognizes partners who have been trained on how to help customers reduce their carbon footprint through Cisco products and solutions. And the Takeback Incentive offers exclusive discounts to Environmental Sustainability Specialized partners where the customer agrees to return the used hardware back to Cisco, helping to divert waste from landfills. Nearly 400 partners participated in the first year. Through this work, Julie and Karin are helping customers with their digital and low-carbon transition.

Technology enables us to rethink business models in ways that are digital and low-carbon, but also improve individual wellbeing and create opportunities for communities. One example is hybrid work, which helps enable inclusion because it allows us to include more people, and more work styles, in more places. Hybrid work can also have environmental benefits, particularly when combined with smart building technology that uses sensors and low-voltage Power over Ethernet (PoE). These innovations allow us to monitor and control temperature, lighting, and air quality. This is the kind of digital, low-carbon, inclusive thinking we want to accelerate.

As you can see from Beth, our engineers have made great progress in power efficiency and circular design. We’re also seeing customers ask for more capabilities and greater bandwidth that increase power demands. That means we must think even bigger, exploring ways to accelerate renewable energy adoption and the greening of the grid.

The Cisco Foundation helps stimulate cutting-edge innovation in areas where it’s most needed. Today, the Foundation focuses on early-stage decarbonization technology and nature-based solutions to climate change. These investments send a signal to other investors about what we value and where we believe the future is headed.

A Cisco Foundation grantee I’m particularly excited about is Canopy Planet, a female-led, solutions-driven, nonprofit that partners with brands to change unsustainable supply chains to protect the world’s forests, species, and climate. Nicole Rycroft, Founder and Executive Director, is leading Canopy’s efforts to eliminate the use of Ancient and Endangered Forests in the paper, packaging and viscose supply chain within the next 10 years. Canopy Planet is using technology to meet this goal, like the Eco-Paper Database, the world’s largest database of environmentally friendly paper and paper-based packaging products, and ForestMapper, an interactive map to assist companies in transitioning to more sustainable fiber supply chains.

There is also Nidhi Pant, the winner of the 2022 Global Citizen Prize Cisco Youth Leadership Award. Nidhi is a chemical engineer and co-founder of S4S Technologies, a platform that converts farm losses into value-added products through the intervention of sustainable solar-powered technology. The organization increases family incomes and empowers women to be climate champions and decision-makers by transforming women farmers into micro-entrepreneurs. S4S Technologies works with over 24,000 farmers and 800 female entrepreneurs to prevent 40,000 tons of produce from being wasted and saves 37,000 tons of CO2 annually.

We can’t have an inclusive and sustainable future without opportunities for everyone

The way we learn, the way we stay connected with our friends and family, the way we share our ideas, and the way we work are rapidly changing. When we live during a time of transition, we need to ensure everyone can participate and contribute.

Cisco Networking Academy plays a vital role in helping to prepare girls and women for the digital and low-carbon economy. Since its inception 25 years ago, the cumulative number of women participating in Cisco Networking Academy (calculated as a percent of the total number of students who identified their gender as male, female, or nonbinary) has grown over time and now stands at 26 percent.

With diverse perspectives, we can tackle our biggest challenges. By empowering girls and women to pursue digital and green opportunities through role models, mentoring, and training, we can maximize innovation for social and environmental good.

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