Women in ICTs: Lessons from my Career

women-icts-blogThis year, International Girls in ICT Day will be celebrated on 23 April 2015. Events and activities are planned around the world to encourage girls and young women to consider studies and careers in the growing field of ICTs. This year’s theme, ‘Girls and Women and Innovation’, coincides with ITU’s 150th anniversary celebrations in April which also focus on ICTs and innovation. To launch the celebrations, ITU will host a Google Hangout on Air on 17 April, 4pm CET, asking an international panel of experts how we can promote and involve more girls and women in innovation. Watch the debate live here, or watch later on demand here.

In the lead up to the event, we interviewed Dr. Miran Choi, Principal Member of Research Staff at Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) in the Republic of Korea, and rapporteur of ITU-T Study Group 2 and ITU-D Study Group 1. She shares her story of how she got involved in the technology sector, and explains why women should pursue a career in information and communication technology (ICT).

How did you become interested in the field of ICTs?

ICT is actually my ‘second’ career. I became interested in the field through academia, but Computer Science was not offered as a degree when I first attended University. After completing my Bachelors in English Literature, I became an English Teacher at a middle school. I went to University in the USA to study a Masters in Linguistics, where I took a one year Undergraduate course in Computer Science. This led me to complete a second Masters in the field. I returned to Korea to work at Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), where I still work today, and completed my PhD in Computer Science part-time.

How did you get involved in ITU?

At ETRI, I am involved in accessibility standards for persons with disabilities. At an ISO MPEG meeting in 2007, a colleague suggested that I participate in ITU Study Groups as they were working in my field of interest. Soon after, I attended a meeting co-organized by ETRI and ITU, and I have been involved in various ways ever since.

At first I was interested in accessibility topics as I want to help persons with disabilities access all of the benefits that ICTs can offer. I later expanded my involvement, participating in Question 13, 21 and 26 of Study Group 16 (Multimedia), and am now rapporteur for ITU-T Question 4, Study Group 2 ‘human factors related issues for improvement of the quality of life through international telecommunications’ and ITU-D Question 7, Study Group 1 ‘access to telecommunication/ICT services by persons with disabilities and with specific needs’.

As rapporteur I am responsible for these questions. The position involves drafting a work programme with the Study Group and Working Party leadership, and reporting any progress made at meetings. Questions on accessibility are specifically interesting to me as I work on speech recognition and natural language processing technologies at ETRI. While my role is to remain neutral, I apply the knowledge developed at ETRI to help ensure that we work with all of the information available to standardize international best practices.

What is your proudest moment at ITU?

Having worked on many Study Group questions, there have been many highlights during my time at ITU. However, I would have to say that I am proud of the standards that I have worked on in accessibility, as I feel that they actively improve people’s lives.

How do you think we can get more women interested and involved in the ICT sector?

There is a visible gender gap in the technology sector; at ETRI, only 10-15 per cent of the 3,000-strong workforce are women, and 90 per cent of the participants in ITU Study Groups that I participate in are male with no female Chairs.

Introducing female-to-male ratios could be an effective solution to ensure female inclusion in the ICT sector, but there are many ways that we can encourage girls and young women to get involved in technology. One of which is to ensure that they are engaged. This can be done through talks at schools and universities, with successful women in the field telling girls and young women about the exciting career paths that are available in the technology sector and providing guidance about how to get involved. Indeed, my own process has been very slow; it was not always easy to juggle raising a family and working. But now, both my son and daughter are majoring in Computer Science – my daughter has even told me that I am her role model! Not only did this make me proud as a mother, but it shows me that girls are encouraged by strong and successful women.

I met many such women at the GEM-TECH events at ITU’s 2014 Plenipotentiary, and there was a lot of energy at the Plenary for Resolution 70 on gender equality and mainstreaming. It would be great to see more women participate in this influential event in the future as a result of this coordinated international effort to promote gender equality.

What are your next steps?

I enjoy working within ITU’s Study Group framework, and feel that I am making a difference with the work that I do. As such, I would like to stay in leadership roles for ITU Study Groups should the opportunity arise.

To learn how you can participate in International Girls in ICT Day, please click here.

To learn more about ITU’s 150th anniversary, please click here.

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