In the largest sense of the word, empowerment is the expansion in the freedom to choose and to act. I believe that education is the key to empowerment. Yet much of today’s global youth—especially women—do not have access to the education they need to truly be empowered.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that girls are less likely to choose STEM fields of study, and even when they do, they are less likely to take up a career in these fields.
There are many things that we can do to address this issue. Government, schools, and the private sector need to explore cooperation strategies such as information or career fairs in schools for both parents and students to raise the interest of girls in science-related subjects. There is a cultural shift that needs to take place so that fewer girls skip their education to marry very young or become the family caretaker—common practices in several developing countries.
There’s also a lot we can do in the private sector. And that’s why I love working at Microsoft. The company is very passionate about this topic and offers a number of exciting initiatives to help prepare educators and youth—especially girls—for an increasingly technological tomorrow.
These initiatives include the Partners in Learning program, in which technology training, 21st century skills and pedagogical content is provided to more than 200 thousand educators of Latin America every year; over 60 percent of those are women. More than a dozen female teachers from Brazil, El Salvador, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia have been recognized globally as Innovative Teachers because they changed the educational paradigm in their own communities.
These types of programs are so critical for us to continue because they inspire girls and deliver results. We need them to see that rewarding career opportunities exist for them and their contributions in the STEM industries are so needed.
Most importantly, we need girls to have strong female role models. My mother instilled the importance of education early on and told me with a good education, I could grow up to be anything I wanted. And that was a very empowering message.