The tech industry has long held a glaring gender disparity, where women are significantly underrepresented. Regrettably, this disparity extends to science and technology professions worldwide, with women accounting for only 30% of the workforce. Historically, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a key player in global connectivity and a specialized agency of the United Nations, had been no exception to this global pattern.

That all changed a quarter of a century ago when the ITU's Member States resolved to change this trajectory by actively pursuing gender equality. “Resolution 70,” adopted in 1998, marked the beginning of a journey to foster inclusivity and empowerment within the organization.

Pioneering Leadership and Progress

Since the adoption of Resolution 70, the ITU has witnessed significant progress in promoting women's leadership and participation across various levels of the organization. And in this time, several trailblazing women have stood apart, shattering glass ceilings and taking on key leadership roles that were once dominated by men:

  • Lyndall Shope-Mafole (South Africa) - In 1999, Ms. Shope-Mafole was announced as the first woman to chair the ITU Council, a remarkable milestone following the adoption of the gender mainstreaming resolution.
  • Audrey Loridan-Baudrier (France) - In 2002, Ms. Loridan-Baudrier became the first woman Study Group Chair, leading the expert group on strategies and policies in the ITU's Development Sector.
  • Veena Rawat (Canada) - In 2003, Dr. Rawat chaired the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) and took charge of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector Group studying satellite services.
  • Marie-Thérèse Alajouanine (France) - In 2005, Ms. Alajouanine broke barriers by becoming the first woman Study Group Chair in the ITU Standardization Sector (ITU-T), heading the group for operational aspects of service provision, networks, and performance.
  • Hessa Al Jaber (Qatar) - In 2006, Dr. Al Jaber chaired the ITU's World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), leaving a lasting impact on gender representation in key leadership positions.
  • Julie Napier Zoller (US) - In 2008, Ms. Zoller made history as the first woman to chair the Radio Regulations Board.
  • Roxanne McElvane Webber (US) - In 2018, Ms. Webber became chair of the ITU's Telecommunication Development Advisory Group, furthering the cause of gender equality within the organization.

Achieving Milestones in Recent Years

In the past five years, the ITU has made commendable strides towards breaking gender barriers. The organization has been committed to promoting awareness, challenging biases, and fostering inclusivity through gender campaigns and training initiatives. While these efforts have yielded some progress, women's representation at ITU, particularly in senior roles, remains a work in progress.

Furthermore, in a momentous step for the organization, the ITU's Member States elected the first woman to any of the specialized agency's five leadership positions. Doreen Bogdan-Martin (US) was the pioneer, being elected as the Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau in 2018 and subsequently as ITU Secretary-General in 2022. Her leadership has marked a transformative chapter in the ITU's journey towards gender parity.

Continued Challenges

Despite the positive developments, the road to gender equality at the ITU mirrors the wider tech industry, where women's underrepresentation persists. Acknowledging these challenges, the ITU remains steadfast in its commitment to fostering dialogue and discussions on gender equality, diversity and inclusion. Resolution 70 continues to guide the organization's efforts, emphasizing gender-responsive approaches in its governing body meetings. Member States are encouraged to nominate more women for leadership positions until the goal of approximate gender parity is achieved across all areas of the ITU.

The International Telecommunication Union has made commendable progress in addressing its gender gap over the past 25 years, thanks to the pioneering efforts of trailblazing women and the steadfast commitment of Member States. The organization's journey towards gender equality remains ongoing, with continued efforts to challenge biases, raise awareness and foster inclusivity.

As the ITU strives to create an inclusive environment for all, it sets an example for the tech industry and the wider United Nations system in the pursuit of gender equality.

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