Vodafone Americas Foundation is at it again. Promoting programs and practices designed to make the world a better place, that is.
I wrote last June about a contest held by Vodafone Americas Foundation to foster and promote innovation and increase the development of mobile and wireless technology for a better world. The goal of the annual contest, known as the Wireless Innovation Project, is to award cash prices to companies which develop beneficial and creative technology intended to help improve human health, living conditions and development, particularly in impoverished regions or areas.
Now, Vodafone Americas Foundation seeks to address the gap between women and men in the technology field, whereby, according to Vodafone Americas Foundation, "while women represent over half of college graduates in the US, they make up only 30 percent of workers at large technology companies." A leader in empowering women, last year Vodafone "became one of the first organizations in the world to define a mandatory minimum maternity benefits standard. The company also committed to increasing the number of women in leadership roles within its company to 30 percent." Now they seek to promote those values elsewhere.
What's their plan to do so? By providing grants and assistance to technology-driven programs for non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to facilitate the removal of barriers for women and girls in the technology field. Vodafone states "This focus is added to the Foundation's existing three core priorities -spark innovation, improve lives, and strengthen the global development sector." These priorities were the backbone of their Wireless Innovation Project as well.
For example, the Foundation has built alliances with several organizations such Girls Who Code and TechGirlz to foster programs "supporting the future generation of women in technology." They have provided a grant to Girls Who Code "to help provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020." The Foundation is helping fund support via TechGirlz "for a middle school technology marketplace designed specifically to keep girls interested in technology until they are able to reach high school where, traditionally, programming classes are available."
Vodafone Americas Foundation is also hoping to address the dark side of technology: the use thereof to engage in online harassment, violence (or threats) and hate speech towards females, all of which can serve as a deterrent to their use of and participation in technology. In fact, Vodafone states that "one in four women between the ages of 18 and 24 have been sexually harassed or threatened online." To combat this they are partnering with Internews, "an international non-profit fostering independent media and access to information worldwide." As part of this partnership, the Foundation is providing a grant to Internews, to be used for "a campaign titled 'Secure' to curate gender-based violence prevention resources into a mobile security toolkit. Open source content will address prevention and recovery from online acts such as doxing, trolling, and other instances of online gender-based violence. The resources will empower women to take control of their privacy and mobile security needs and enhance their experience navigating the web."
"Our core priorities are designed to foster social change in global and local communities through connected solutions. This new initiative will provide opportunities for all women to learn sustainable skills, participate in STEM education, and thrive and excel in technology-driven leadership roles," said Chuck Pol, Chairman, Vodafone Americas Foundation. "We will support advocacy and gender work for women in and through technology that will strengthen their stance in the sector while continuing to improve lives of all around the world."
I had a Q/A session with June Sugiyama, the Director of Vodafone Americas Foundation to explore the concept further.
Scott Matteson: "How will these new priorities drive programs to support current and future generations of women in technology?"
June Sugiyama: "Our goal is to provide women and girls with greater economic opportunity and help close the gender gap throughout technology today. By providing grants and creating partnerships with organizations committed to this mission, we hope to increase the number of girls who get involved with technology and help drive mobile tools that women can use to be empowered through technology."
SM: "What are your thoughts on the reasons behind the 'gender gap' in IT, whereby men outnumber women via a significant majority (I have noticed this directly as well in my employment)?"
JS: "There are many different factors that contribute to the "gender gap" in technology. However, there are a few specific statistics that one can look at. For example, the numbers show that women are leaving technology jobs due to work environments. In fact, 50 percent of women with careers in STEM fields will eventually leave due to hostile work environments, according the Harvard Business Review.
Additionally, women have traditionally faced an uphill battle in achieving upward mobility in technology roles. A major contributing factor to this is that there is a lack of support for women who want to also raise a family in addition to their job. There needs to be a conscious effort to get women into leadership positions throughout technology, which can help lead to more female-friendly environments."
SM: "Can you provide specific details on the grants to Girls Who Code and TechGirlz to elaborate on their intentions?"
JS: "For TechGirlz, the Vodafone Americas Foundation grant was provided to help them expand their teaching volunteer base and offer more technology workshops to girls.
Girls Who Code is leveraging a Vodafone Americas Foundation grant to help develop their Summer Immersion Programs that helps educate high school girls on computer science. Some of the girls who attend their programs have never coded before yet they create viable applications that directly tackle social issues that impact them and their communities."
SM: "Can you outline some technical details of the 'Secure' campaign with Internews?"
JS: "The SECURE initiative will be to curate gender based violence prevention resources into a mobile security toolkit, the open source content will address prevention and recovery from online acts such as doxing, trolling, and other instances of online gender based violence. The resources will empower women to take control of their privacy and mobile security needs and enhance their experience navigating the web. The second phase will be a public forum for women leaders and activists on mobile security to address gender based violence online, showcasing the toolkit as well as resources and partnerships, collaboration points, and next steps. Lastly, Internews plans to incorporate feedback and share the toolkit with the public."
SM: "What region(s) - if any in particular - is Vodafone focusing on most heavily as part of these initiatives?"
JS: "The Vodafone Americas Foundation is one of 27 different Vodafone Group Foundations and is a true global partner to help entrepreneurs and nonprofits scale globally. While many of the grants we provide originate in the United States, many of the projects we support have the ability to scale to multiple markets and deliver impact through the use of technology. Therefore, we don't limit our projects to specific regions."
SM: "How do you measure success of these programs (what criteria is being applied to measure and gauge results?)"
JS: "Each partnership and grant have respective goals to achieve such as completion of the projects, presentation of the workshops, number of students attending, the success will be measured against each of the set goals. At times our partners will use surveys as well as monitoring the direction of their participants, for example following the trajectory of girls who participate in coding programs continue on to higher education, etc."
SM: "Will this be a yearly event? If so, how do you select the grant recipients?"
JS: "This is not an event. This announcement means that empowering women and girls through technology will be new ongoing priority for the Vodafone Americas Foundation. This priority is an expansion of our programs."
SM: "Any future plans to expand in this area or add new initiatives?"
JS: "Technology is always evolving, especially mobile technology. Important issues develop every year, so it is a possibility. However, for now, as mentioned, empowering women and girls through technology will be an ongoing priority for the Vodafone Americas Foundation."
SM: "Have you had or do you expect any lashback from 'men's rights' groups making accusations of sexism, bias, etc.? If so how do you respond to these allegations or comments?"
JS: "This added priority to empower women and girls through technology is not designed to be biased only toward women. It's important that men and boys are part of everything we do, including our commitment to help promote women and girls in the technology field."
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.