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Cisco has jumped on Thursday's International Women's Day bandwagon with the launch of F_email - a project to improve women's technology skills.

The network and communications giant believes women, particularly in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America "all have one thing in common: a desire to improve their IT skills and reap the benefits that empowerment can deliver."

Improving technology skills is seen by the firm as a method of empowerment for women in societies where a gender imbalance is common, and Cisco's Networking Academy program has educated more than two million students in tech skills from 165 countries over the last nine years.

To date, Cisco said it has invested in a Linksys Digital Home and Small Business project with Dubai Women's College; Cisco's F_email project in Hungary, Serbia and Turkey; and work with the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in the Middle East and Africa.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is concerned that the proportion of women graduates in information and communications technology (ICT) in Europe is falling, especially compared to other regions of the world.

To promote women's careers in ICT on International Women's Day, the commission presented six video diaries of young women on Thursday who were given the chance to accompany a successful female engineer or technologist for a day.

"Getting more women into ICT careers would be a force for change and a major boost for this key economic sector in Europe", said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media in Brussels.

"With Europe facing a skills shortage in this sector, we must encourage more women to study ICT subjects and to take up a career in this field, so as to increase capacity of the workforce and to tap into women's creative potential."

The commission said the ICT sector contributes 5.3 per cent of the EU's GDP and four per cent of its jobs. However, by 2010 it expects a shortfall of 300,000 qualified ICT staff.

Although computer studies graduates across the EU's 27 member states grew by 133 per cent from 1998 to 2004, Europe is actually falling behind comparably. In 1998 computing graduates accounted for 2.3 per cent of all graduates in the EU-27, by 2004 it had increased to four per cent. In the US it rose from 2.3 per cent to five per cent and in South Korea from one per cent to six per cent.

For women the statistics are even worse. The proportion of women computer graduates fell from 25 per cent in 1998 to 22 per cent in 2006. In other regions of the world the percentage is higher: Canada (27 per cent), the US (28 per cent), and South Korea (38 per cent).

The proportion of women working in ICT varies widely across the EU from six per cent in Luxembourg to 41 per cent in Lithuania. The commission pointed out that of those women who enter ICT careers, many often drop out or move to a different career. Also, fewer women make it to senior management positions, particularly in the ICT sector.

Around two thirds of telecommunications companies have no women on their board of directors, and in 14 major ICT companies, less than 10 per cent of board members are women.

BT, Cisco, Infineon, Motorola and Nokia are all taking part in the EU's pilot programme to allow young women to shadow a female role model in her work for a day.

A separate European Commission study on Women in the ICT sector has just begun and the findings are expected October 2007.

Copyright © 2007, ENN

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