I have a daughter. And I tell her ever so often that she can be whatever her heart desires. Every time I watch her getting on the school bus, I can’t help but be grateful for the choices she now has as a young girl.

The world has indeed come a long way since I was at school.

However, as the father of a girl, I am also equally conscious of greater female representation in my industry. Achieving gender parity in the workforce is slowly gaining traction as a movement.

Evidently, a lot more needs to be done globally. Even in corporate America for example, according to the “Women in the Workplace 2018 report”, only 38 per cent of companies set targets for gender representation.

Catch them young

Needless to say, in a world where technology is having an impact on the way we work, live, learn and play, gender diversity in the tech industry becomes extremely important, as women must play an equal role in shaping our industry and future. Although there is data to suggest that female representation in STEM education is growing, it is still woefully low in countries such as the US.

Bucking the global trend, 95 per cent of the UAE’s female high-school graduates pursue further education and more specifically, 56 per cent of the UAE’s STEM graduates are women. These numbers are cause for celebration, and should serve as an inspiration to other nations.

But we must also consider how we can help young women successfully transition into full-time careers in the industry.

Addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEM must start in schools. Test scores across 67 countries and regions reveal that girls performed about as well or better than boys did on science in most countries, and in almost all countries, girls would have been capable of college-level science and math classes if they had enrolled in them.

If we consider that only 35 per cent of female students select STEM-related fields in higher education globally, it forces us to ask ourselves — “What do we need to do to encourage higher enrolment in STEM degrees at universities?”

Raise the profile

I strongly believe in having visible role models that dispel the misconceptions around STEM studies and fields. Businesses need to champion their existing female talent, create clear roadmaps for their professional growth and, more importantly, raise the profile of the women in technical roles.

Companies have been working over the years to help narrow the skills gap and create more opportunities for women in STEM. Since 1997, the Cisco Networking Academy has been working towards helping people gain the technical skills and ability needed to excel in their careers and contribute to wider society.

We are particularly proud of our presence in the Middle East, especially in the UAE, where women account for 48 per cent of our graduating students, since the Academy’s local inception.

We hold our annual Women of Impact Conference to not only celebrate, but also enhance the longevity of women’s careers in the industry. Diversity and inclusion practices ensure we remain aware of the issues facing women in STEM and commit to addressing them in a responsible manner.

We believe that an inclusive organisation helps facilitate collaboration and therefore our growth as a result.

Operating locally, we are constantly inspired by the UAE’s leadership, who are known for their commitment to ensuring women have equal opportunities. A 2018 United Nations Development Programme study found the UAE to be the leading Gulf country for gender equality, with the nation making significant progress in bringing women into the workforce.

I concede that achieving gender parity is not an easy target; it requires changes across policy, legislation, society, education and industry. But above all, it requires the collective will of women and men in positions of influence, to make a conscious commitment to change the future for their daughters — and sons.

Shukri Eid is Managing Director — Gulf Region, Cisco Middle East.