Over the past week I have had the honor to represent Microsoft at two events on opposite sides of the globe, specifically focused on empowering women and girls, an issue that is critical for both countries and global companies like Microsoft.
On May 25, I participated in a panel discussion led by Irina Bokova, Director-General UNESCO, to mark the first anniversary of the launch of “Better Life, Better Future”, UNESCO’s Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.
Microsoft is a proud participant in this partnership, which aims to address the issue of unequal education opportunities and low literacy rates for women and girls around the world. Both our organizations hold a shared vision of the importance of girls’ education to the economic advancement of their communities, while recognizing the needed effort to improve equality and access.
In our panel discussion, we discussed the progress over the past year, including several innovative agreements that specifically target adolescent girls and women in the area of literacy, as well as work to build stronger coalitions moving forward to enable sustained attention on the issue of gender equality through education.
A decade ago, Microsoft created the DigiGirlz program, which gives high school girls worldwide a chance to experience firsthand what it is like to develop cutting-edge technology and grow their careers in this field. Today, the program has scaled to scores of countries. In the past three months alone, DigiGirlz events have taken place in Kenya, Mauritius, Romania, Namibia, Nigeria, El Salvador, South Africa, Peru, France, Australia, Switzerland and Germany.
Microsoft aims to align once again with UNESCO to prioritize gender on the education agenda and to apply ICTs to augment teachers’ education and training. The panel discussion can be viewed here.
On Wednesday at Microsoft’s Government Leaders Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and senior women government leaders from the region discussed “Women and their Impact in Latin America”.
Following her remarks, I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion featuring Dorothea Werneck, State Secretary of Economic Development, Minas Gerais, Brazil; Carolina Schmidt, Minister of the National Directorate of the Service for the Women of Chile; and Lorena Martínez Rodríguez, Mayor of Aguas Calientes, México.
Central to the discussion is the mounting evidence that empowering women means a more efficient use of a nation’s human talent endowment, while reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth.
The empowerment of women creates a multiplier effect, and the benefits are immediately apparent. When women unlock their potential, families become healthier and better fed, and their income and savings increase. What is true of families is also true of communities and, in the long run, of entire countries. When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.
While important progress has been made globally and in Latin America on that front, the glass ceiling remains an important obstacle. Latin America, for example, ranks ahead of many parts of the world in terms of the percentage of women holding senior roles in both government and the private sector. Yet, that percentage remains at only 32 percent.
Nonetheless, there is clear evidence of continued progress on this front – one needs to look no further than the five female heads of state in Latin America. That represents the highest percentage in the world, and is reinforced by a percentage of female members of parliament (22.5 percent) that ranks behind only the Nordic region.
Attending these events this past week was a great opportunity to reflect on the progress made while bringing a renewed awareness to the need for both public and private sector organizations to continue to do more to address this important challenge.