To mark International Women’s Day, Microsoft launched the #MakeWhatsNext campaign and co-hosted a forum alongside Sysco LABS at the Sysco LABS headquarters in Colombo 7. The event illustrated the changing workplace roles of women, and the importance of young women pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
Over a 100 people—from daughters and mothers to entrepreneurs and industry leaders—met at Sysco LABS as part of the gathering; they listened to a panel of distinguished men and women discuss integrating diversity and inclusion into the workplace to inspire young women to #MakeWhatsNext.
Leading the discussion, Country Director for Sri Lanka and Maldives at World Bank Group Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough said: “In Sri Lanka, there are more women in higher education than men; but when you dissect the numbers, the girls are not taking STEM subjects in adequate numbers. And there are less women in paid employment.”
Today, the number of women pursuing STEM education and careers is still low despite technology making tremendous progress over the last few decades. UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimates that only 23% of researchers in East Asia and the Pacific are women and only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study are female.
One of the reasons for this gender imbalance in STEM subjects is the lack of role models for young women to be inspired by, and grow confidence in the ability to pursue careers in those sectors. In fact, only one in four girls aged between 12 to 19 years of age in the region know a female public figure in the field of STEM, according to MasterCard study.
“We want to change the way young women view STEM by letting them envision how technology, science, and engineering can be tools used to solve global challenges; how their interests today could turn into a job of the future. We’re inviting girls to explore their passions further and gain insights from LinkedIn on how to make their dream job a reality. To make it happen, we are introducing all girls, including those from underserved communities, to female role models from different industries as well as hands-on, purpose-driven experiences where STEM concepts are linked to real-life situations,” said Dr. Daiana Beitler, Philanthropies Director, Microsoft Asia.
Linda Speldewinde, Founder AOD Colombo and Fashionmarket.lk, said young women need to “dream big” and define their goals without any influence or limitation imposed on them by society, stressing that young women need to embrace a quiver of positivity (i.e. what they can do) and “not be limited by what they think they can’t do.”
Later, Thusitha Simons, Partner Development Manager for Microsoft Sri Lanka, led a panel that included: Sandra De Zoysa, Group Chief Customer Officer for Dialog Axiata; Thilak Piyadigama, Chief Operating Officer at Nations Trust Bank; Thaimi Mohamed, Project Manager at Sysco LABS; and Sachindra Samararatne, Program Manager at the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA).
The panel addressed how social norms had changed over time, and emphasized the importance in encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The panel also encouraged women seeking upward mobility to leverage their networks by having a support system in place and to support their peers’ ambitions.
At the close of the event, panelists urged members of the audience to help young women embrace technology by instructing them on how to use and create technology to become drivers of innovation and growth within their communities.
Microsoft has a long track record of taking an innovative approach to encourage and engage more girls in the exciting world of technology. The software vendor will continue to drive a busy program which will introduce even more young women to coding through Hour of Code Projects—sessions that provide an introduction to computer science and showcase the importance of coding.
Microsoft, along with partners from both public and private sectors, will be driving activities to inspire girls to pursue their passion in STEM across the entire region. These activities will address three key areas to encourage women to step into STEM-related careers:
1. Increasing exposure to role models in STEM
2. Creating opportunities for hands-on experiences that show how STEM can shape the future
3. Helping individuals to envision a future with STEM
Microsoft also released a micro-film profiling five extraordinary female role models from Asia, who are using STEM to invent new ways to change the world. Among them, Melisha Ghimere, co-founder of Echo Innovators and Microsoft’s Imagine Cup finalist, has developed the FarmLi solution for farmers in Nepal to better manage their livestock and increase food security; Mikaela Jade, an entrepreneur who is preserving Indigenous culture with augmented reality apps that bring Indigenous stories to life; and Felicia Chua, COO from Coding Garage, who is building the next generation of innovators through computer science education for all.
You can hear what each speaker had to say below:
To learn more about the #MakeWhatsNext campaign, visit http://www.makewhatsnext.com.
To find out more about Microsoft Philanthropies’ initiatives in Asia, please visit https://news.microsoft.com/apac/category/philanthropies-asia.