Women in ICTs: Shaping the Future of Technology

blog-girls-ictMy smart phone, computer, and broadband access are the most important tools I have.  I use them every day at work and in my personal life – to conduct business; make appointments; talk, text or video chat with a friend; get directions to a new restaurant; keep track of my steps; and myriad other things.  Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) drive modern life.  No matter what the field, people are using ICTs to work and play.  It’s been almost 35 years since I installed my first satellite earth station, and technology keeps advancing.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have a career in such an exciting and empowering field.

Not long after I graduated with an engineering degree, I took a job managing the installation of satellite earth stations.  It was really rewarding to visit a site in another country, start with ‘green fields’ and leave a few weeks later with an operational satellite system – those 10 meter antennas were impressive!  That hands-on experience got me hooked in the field of ICTs, and it also gave me the confidence to touch and use technology.  I love to figure out how to employ technology in order to increase knowledge or productivity, or just for the joy of problem-solving.

I started participating in the work of the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) in 1997.  I was told the work would be 40 per cent technical, 40 per cent regulatory, and 40 per cent geo-politics.  In other words, it would be more than a full time job and would require multi-dimensional thinking and solutions.  They were right.  I was fascinated and quickly captivated.  In those early days, few women were involved in the work of the ITU, but this was familiar territory given I was the first female engineer at my first job.

I spent the first few years at the ITU exclusively in the ITU-R, engaged in the technical group studying sharing between satellite systems and other services.  During that time, I became very interested in the Radio Regulations, which is the treaty governing the international use of the radio frequency spectrum.  Expressing new technical requirements in regulatory prose is essential to changing the use of the spectrum.  It is an art where science and regulation intersect.

I served on the U.S. delegation to several World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) and authored some of the U.S. proposals to change the Radio Regulations.  I worked hard to develop my regulatory skills, and became the U.S. candidate for the Radio Regulations Board (RRB).  I was elected in 2006 and again in 2010 at the ITU’s top-level treaty conference, the Plenipotentiary Conference.  It was extraordinary because 2006 was the first time a woman was elected, and there were two of us elected the same year.  I served as the chair of the RRB in 2008 and 2011 and ended my term in 2014.  I am very proud of breaking that barrier and of the two women serving on the board today.  I look forward to the day when women make up half of the twelve members of the RRB.

Today, I am the Senior Deputy Coordinator for International Communication and Information Policy and Director for Multilateral Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Coordinating U.S. engagement at the ITU makes up a significant part of my portfolio.  Last year, I served as the Deputy Head of Delegation to the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference and the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference.  This year, I am focused on the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) and securing spectrum for mobile broadband and other wireless services.   I recently led the U.S. delegation to the Conference Preparatory Meeting for WRC-15.  Next year, I will chair the ITU Council, the governing body between the four-year plenipotentiary conferences.

Girls in ICT Day provides an opportunity to inspire women and girls to consider the future of ICTs as their future.  It is a bright future, full of opportunity in a field that will be relevant far beyond any horizon we can imagine.  The work is interesting, rewarding, and important.  It is essential that women take part in shaping the future of ICTs, contributing to technology development and decision-making, running companies and chairing deliberations.  Opportunities sometimes appear, but more often they must be created.  Women, and their employers, governments, and colleagues, all have a role in creating this opportunity.  So touch the technology, explore the math and science behind it, and fill the leadership role.  Be an inspiration to girls in ICT.  You will be glad you did.

zoller-portraitJulie N. Zoller is Senior Deputy Coordinator of the Office of Multilateral Affairs, Office of International Communications and Information Policy, Bureau of Economics and Business Affairs in the United States Department of State. Before this, Ms Zoller was Deputy Associate Administrator of International Spectrum in the Office of Spectrum Management, National Telecommunication and Information Administration, Department of Commerce. Ms Zoller is an elected member of the Radio Regulations Board. In 2008, she became the first woman to chair the Board. She also chaired the Board in 2011.

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