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Tales from CGI: Meeting Hillary Clinton and Cultivating Little Madame Curies

Last month marked my first time at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting. In my work with Qualcomm Wireless Reach, I’m often meeting with government leaders and private sector executives. But never before had I been with so many global leaders and other distinguished individuals who are committed to strategic projects that empower people all over the world. I was in my element.

My most memorable moment was meeting one of my heroes, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Issues relating to women and girls are very important to me, as they are to Secretary Clinton. At CGI, she spent time talking with me and my team before joining Qualcomm executive Peggy Johnson on stage to announce our company’s commitment to CGI’s Women Enhancing Technology (WeTech) program. WeTech aims to build a steady pipeline of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and address the technology industry’s need for more professionals with technical knowledge.

Former Secretary Clinton with Qualcomm’s Angela Baker, Erin Gavin, Shawn Covell and Peggy Johnson.

I was thrilled that the issue of women in STEM was a priority at CGI 2013. Qualcomm alone was involved in three events around this topic. Our company’s co-founder Dr. Irwin Jacobs participated in a plenary panel, “Women Decision-Makers in the Global Economy”, there was the WeTech announcement and I took part in a panel discussion entitled “Women in Technology: Filling the Next 1.5 Million Jobs.” 

In addition, Qualcomm’s role as a lead implementing player in the EKOCENTER project was also announced. EKOCENTER, a kiosk designed to improve the well-being of communities, focuses on offering a locally tailored mix of products, services and resources through a social enterprise model that will improve the well-being of underserved communities and jump-start entrepreneurial opportunities for women at the base of the economic pyramid.

My panel discussed how women are a small minority in the information technology (IT) sector, and if we don’t find ways to bring more women into this industry about half of the available jobs within the next five years will go unfilled. The potential repercussions to a country’s economic competitiveness are alarming.

This conversation prompted intriguing comments and ideas from attendees. One person noted the current dearth of STEM teachers and the importance of training girls for these roles in order to educate the next generation of scientists, inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs who are critical to global prosperity and to our industry. Someone else suggested making computer science a mandatory part of the curriculum in junior high or high school.

Another person said we should start developing girls’ interest in STEM as early as age two or three and get the publishing industry to publish books about little Madame Curies—not just baby Einsteins. This got me thinking about how a smartphone will likely be the first computer that much of the world’s population is going to own. Imagine having little Madame Curie books or games on these devices to cultivate little girls’ interest in science globally.

Throughout history, women have fought for an equal place in society. We fought for the right to vote. We’re still fighting to close the gender wage gap. There’s never been a female U.S. president. Women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs and only 5.5 percent of all commercial patents.

I think technology is the next front. Increasingly, these are the jobs that are paying higher wages, solving social problems, creating new businesses and keeping nations competitive. Women must be a greater part of this.

Many businesses and organizations are taking action to build the pipeline of girls and women in STEM. However, there needs to be many more touch points in a girl’s education, from at least sixth grade through college, to pursuing an engineering job or STEM career. I believe that STEM programs need to engage these girls more holistically through their entire education. And, I look forward to discussing this at CGI next year.

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