Creating Opportunities for Women in Latin America

For the second year in a row, Women and Social Inclusion is a key topic area we’ll be discussing over the next two days at Microsoft’s annual Government Leaders Forum – Latin America and Caribbean in Rio de Janeiro.

The event brings together government leaders and other influential thinkers to exchange ideas and discuss experiences on the opportunities that Information Technology enables in the region. Distinguished women leaders from the region, including keynote speaker Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the President of Costa Rica, and the ­Minister of Women’s Policy for Brazil, among others, will join us on a panel to discuss technology and the economic empowerment of women.

Below is a photo from the event. From left to right: Eleonora Menicucci, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Brazil; Beatriz Paredes Rangel, Ambassador of Mexico in Brazil; Lucia Topolansky, First Senator for the Oriental Republic of Uruguay; Alicia Barcena Ibarra, UN Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and The Caribbean (ECLAC); Orlando Ayala, Chairman of Emerging Markets, Microsoft Corporation.

As in many parts of the world, women in Latin America play an important role in the family and community. We know that when women are fully engaged in our workforce and society at large, they bring great ideas and drive great innovation. It has also been shown that nations with greater gender equality and higher proportions of educated females have more robust economies. Progress for women is progress for every society.

That’s why at Microsoft we work closely with nearly 20 leading national and international women’s organizations to coordinate efforts to encourage women to enter and advance in the field of computing. A few examples are a recent software grant to Pro Mujer that will benefit more than 328,000 women with access to technology and Microsoft’s support of the POETA YOUTH program (Partnership for Opportunities in Employment through Technology in the Americas), through which at least 500 youth (400 of whom are girls) will receive IT training and job placement assistance to enter the technology workforce. Microsoft also has a partnership with UN Women to develop uses of IT to help protect and empower women and girls around the world.

While these programs are making an impact, we know there’s more work to be done. Fifty-one percent of the population in Latin America is female, and young women in the region face disproportionately greater barriers to economic advancement and access to opportunities than their male counterparts. Young women are affected by poverty at a rate 20 percent higher than men, and continue to be more likely to work as unpaid family laborers or in the informal sector.

One of the ways we can help to empower women to join the labor force is by making them more appealing job candidates. Microsoft YouthSpark helps young people receive the technology training and skills today’s workers need for 21st century jobs. Two exciting programs that are part of this initiative are the Imagine Cup and DigiGirlz. The Imagine Cup program recently unveiled two new competitions for women, and the DigiGirlz program, which gives high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops.

Another too-often consequence of poverty for women is violence. As part of Microsoft’s commitment to empower and improve the lives of women through the use of technology, we will showcase a new phone app, Agentto, which runs on Windows Azure, during the women’s panel at the event. Developed by one of our partners in Brazil, this app helps people communicate quickly, quietly and automatically with their family, friends and the authorities in the face of urgent situations such as street crime or domestic violence.

While the goal is to foster inclusion and empowerment for women in society, we’re also focused on how to address this challenge here at Microsoft. Approximately 31 percent of Microsoft’s employees in Latin America are women. We are above this industry average and proactively working on specific efforts to make these numbers increase.

I’m proud to work for a company that offers several and varied programs open to young women in the region, to help them get access to the training and resources they need to better themselves, their families and their communities. I look forward to discussing new ways to unleash the potential of women, and invite other members of civil society, governments and private entities to help meet the challenge. Empowering women is not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.

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