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Technology's Missing Growth Driver: Women

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With the dramatic growth of mobile phones and the Internet, opportunities for professionals and entrepreneurs in the computing field have outpaced most other sectors. Yet, around the world, women remain a small minority.

According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, the percentage of computer science degrees awarded to women in the U.S. has declined from over 37 per cent in 1984 to 18 per cent in 2012. And, at more senior levels the representation of women diminishes to 11 per cent of corporate officer positions at Fortune 500 technology companies, 8 per cent of leaders of venture-backed start-ups, and only 4 per cent of senior management positions in technical/R&D departments in Silicon Valley companies.

In the past, we have largely viewed this disparity as an issue of limiting women's possibilities, particularly in a highly lucrative field. But, today, it also contributes to a broader economic imbalance as technology companies are unable to find sufficient talent, while millions remain unemployed. In the U.S. alone, the Department of Labor estimates that there will be more than 1.4-million new computing related jobs by 2018, and that half of those will go unfilled based on current trends. Engaging more women in computer science is one obvious way to bridge the gap. Additionally, we cannot afford not to harness the creativity and talents of half the world's population if we are to continue fuelling the innovations that drive economic growth.

Early exposure to computer science, curricula oriented around tangible problems rather than mechanics, visible role models, and peer support through girls' camps or clubs have all been shown to improve the retention of girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) studies. Let's encourage girls around the world to fully participate in the technology revolution and apply their talents to building the next generation of breakthrough products.

G(irls)20 Summit 2013 Speaker, Ann Mei Chang serves as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology for the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State.