Cisco issues a "Grand Challenge" to young women
Posted on
February 5, 2015
Wanted: Girls and their ideas.

Women are greatly outnumbered by men in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers. Most agree that this is not because it's hard for women to get jobs in these fields, so much as that  it's not common for women to seek jobs in these fields. It's especially not common in the realm of computer science and information technology. Women and, more particularly, girls often need a little extra persuasion to get involved in an IT career. Enter the Grand Challenge.

Between now and March 25, young women between the ages of 13-18 are being challenged by Cisco to tap into their creativity and pursue new ideas. The goal of the IoT World Forum Young Women's Innovation Grand Challenge is for these young women to develop a new idea. This idea will incorporate how technologies from the Internet of Things (IoT) can improve areas like healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and education.

Investment and involvement in the Internet of Things is growing, with an estimated 50 billion devices predicted to be connected to the internet by 2020. As the IT industry races to keep pace, the need to recruit women into STEM careers is seen as being more important than ever before. Since women have tended to be scarce in IT for years, they're viewed as being an under-utilized and under-appreciated resource.

A recent study performed by the United States Department of Commerce found that women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, despite filling close to half of all jobs in the United States economy. Only one in every seven engineers is a woman, and only 27 percent of all computer science jobs are held by women. The worst part about these statistics is that they have been stagnant for years.

Many believe that a contributing factor to that stagnation is the treatment of women who do embark on a STEM career. These women often face adversity, and whether from discrimination in the workplace, or  because of a shortage of women mentors in the industry, the result is the same. It's often hard for women to be seen as equally capable by their industry peers, and to cope with gender differences magnified by the overwhelming presence of mostly male counterparts.

There are a growing number of resources for women in IT: Professional associations that seek to help women develop confidence in the IT workplace include the Association for Women in Science, Society of Women Engineers and the Association for Women in Mathematics. In addition to helping women find their footing in IT careers, these groups can also help women find employers with gender-equitable policies.

Companies like Cisco have developed competitions like the Grand Challenge to help promote the idea of a STEM career in the minds of young women. This type of competition has already proven to be successful in areas throughout the world.

Three 16- and 17-year-old girls from Ireland recently won a competition put on by Google, with an idea to help combat world hunger. The girls figured out that a nitrogen-fixing bacteria known as rhizobia can help accelerate the growth of certain plants by more than 50 percent. It's the sort of idea that could easily have been extinguished, or never come to light in the first place, without a forum to share and promote it.

The first round of entries for the Cisco Grand Challenge should address a current challenge in either education, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, mining, transportation, oil and gas, government, sports or entertainment. Entrants are required to submit a written description of the problem and its ramifications. The entrant will then describe how they think IoT technology can solve the problem. Judges will determine who moves to the next round.

About the Author

Jake Slater is social media manager for GoCertify and a graduate of Brigham Young University.

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