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Meet the EQUALS in Tech Awards finalists: Unistream’s Fast Forward to ICT

This article originally appeared in ITUNews.

Unistream’s Fast forward to ICT in partnership with J.P. Morgan, a programme that gives women from disadvantaged areas in Israel the guidance, skills, and opportunities to enter into ICT careers and industry leadership roles, has been named as a finalist for the Equals in Tech Awards, which take place in Geneva, Switzerland next week.

ITU News recently caught up with Bat Sheva Moshe, the CEO of Unistream.

She explains what Fast Forward to ICT is all about in the Q&A below.

  1. Can you tell us why Unistream has been nominated for the EQUALS in Tech Awards?

Unistream’s Fast Forward to ICT is a one of a kind, comprehensive programme that aims to empower women and girls by guiding them towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, ICT careers and leadership roles. It targets Jews, Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Druze, Bedouins, and immigrants, regardless of whether they are secular or religious.

The programme has mapped and addressed all the key road blocks including social and cultural pressures that currently prevent young women and girls from doing STEM majors and from competing effectively for jobs in the technological sector.

Focusing on women from Israel’s social and geographic periphery, which is marked by educational, economic, and social disadvantage, the programme offers training, networking, and professional mentorship to help guide female participants into STEM majors, increasing their involvement in ICT and tech, and thus helping to promote gender equality.

2. What are some of the challenges you have been trying to address?

This programme was developed to address an unfortunate socio-economic reality in Israel, whereby 80% of the children who are born to poor parents remain poor for the rest of their lives. The programme will also help address the fact that only 10% of electric engineers and technology majors in Israel are women. Israel, the so-called ‘startup nation’, fails in STEM education.

Our data showed that many talented female participants from our youth programme, who had already acquired high levels of STEM skills, were still choosing low-level majors or jobs after graduating from high school, often in non-professional fields. They were still excluded from ICT sectors as well as leadership roles, due mainly to a lack of guidance. Fast Forward to ICT aims to give these women the skills, the guidance and the opportunities and to cross the digital divide.

3. How are you bringing innovative approaches to these problems?

Unistream utilized a bottom-up as well as up-down approach that identified what prevents the ICT sector from recruiting highly motivated young women from disadvantaged areas. The program brings women to tech & tech to women in collaboration with over 100 high tech companies.

The participants receive the opportunities and support they need to integrate them into the technology industry. The program includes numerous pillars, each of which addresses a different roadblock that prevents them from pursuing STEM studies and entering into ICT careers:

  • pre-academic consulting to overcome cultural and social obstacles to encourage women to pursue education in STEM;

  • work placement in leading high-tech companies – thus promoting broader gender equality in this industry;

  • vocational STEM courses for female participants without higher education, designed to narrow the digital gender gap;

  • seminars and training, designed to support the participants’ job search and career planning.

4. How does it feel to gain international recognition from ITU and UN Women for your work?

Fast forward to ICT started off as a pilot program with very ambitious goals. The first two years of the pilot absolutely exceeded expectations. The high-tech companies were so pleased with the recruits from the Fast Forward to ICT program that they started asking Unistream for more participants.

More and more industry and opinion leaders understand the value the program brings to the industry, and more and more ICT companies are collaborating with us.

Having such recognition from the ITU and the UN Women encourages us to expand the program goals even further.

It is an exceptional honor to be recognized for such an inspiring crucial goal, indicating that we are on the right path to changing the current status quo.

5. Can you explain why leadership for women in tech is so important?

The digital divide in Israel, the so-called ‘start-up nation’, continues to grow. It is paramount to encourage, support, and guide young women and girls to achieve digital gender equality and assume leadership positions.

This has a very significant ripple effect in the wider communities because the program generates success stories about role models from the community who made it even though they started at a weak point. The climate in the periphery is transitioning from one of despair with few opportunities, to one of hope.

This is why women CEOs in the ICT industry, that are currently and unfortunately a minority, are playing such an active role in Unistream's organization. Inspiring more women and girls to be leaders is the first step towards a paradigm shift for them and for the industry.

Bat Sheva Moshe is the CEO of Unistream.

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