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Achieving E-Quality in the IT Sector

Company: Cisco Systems
Sector: Software & Computer Services
Headquarters: USA
Partners: UNIFEM
Partnership location: Global


A study presented at the World Summit on the Information Society in 2005 showed that the percentage of women graduating with science and technology education is declining in about a third of the countries for which data is available. The study also showed that the gender divide extends into Information Technology (IT) occupations, with women accounting for about 21 percent of IT workers in India, 28 percent in Japan, 16 percent in Australia and 35 percent in the United States. In developing countries, the participation of women lags far behind. Without a concerted effort to bridge the gender gap in technology, the IT industry will continue to experience a shortage of skilled workers, and women around the world will be excluded from critical opportunities to promote economic development and innovation.

Ten years ago, Cisco launched the Networking Academy programme to train young people in technical skills. Cisco worked with instructional designers and educators to develop an Internet-based curriculum to teach students and instructors how to design, build and maintain computer networks. The programme expanded rapidly to schools, colleges, universities and not-for-profit educational institutions around the world. Today, over 2 million students have graduated from this programme worldwide. There are approximately 10,000 Networking Academies with a total of 500,000 students actively studying in this programme in 166 countries across the globe.


Cisco partnered with UNIFEM because of the Agency’s global credibility and expertise in promoting women’s empowerment. The partnership began in January 2001 with the creation of the ‘ Achieving E-Quality in the IT Sector’ programme in North Africa and the Middle East. The programme provides scholarships and training to women in under-served communities. The goal is to increase the number of women contributing to a country’s economic development. Since the project’s inception, 1,620 students have participated in the programme, with 44 percent female enrolment and 1,057 programme graduates.

‘E-Quality’ is part of Cisco’s global ‘Gender Initiative’. This initiative is dedicated to achieve three fundamental goals:

1) Provide access to the Internet - Create strategies and solutions to increase Internet access for women, such as donating networking equipment to global NGOs and nonprofits in support of sustainable programmes.
2) Build Knowledge - Increase access to knowledge and skills through technology-based delivery platforms such as the Networking Academy.
3) Create Careers - Connect Cisco volunteers and partners with community organizations to provide mentoring opportunities for girls and women, educate them about career opportunities in technology and attract and retain women in the IT industry.

The partnership with UNIFEM has leveraged Cisco’s existing partnerships in order to reach more women in developing countries. In April 2000, Cisco established the Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) Initiative in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and, later, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). This initiative encourages academies in LDCs to maintain 30 percent female enrolment in their courses and has met this target, with an average enrolment of 30 percent women in the countries of operation since the beginning of the programme.

Benefits to Society

Cisco’s Networking Academy and its partnership with UNIFEM has had a positive impact on the participation of women in technology. The initiative helps to bridge the gender digital divide and provide an educational framework for building 21st century skills within connected communities. For example, in Jordan, the project has resulted in the graduation of 889 Cisco CCNA students, 46 percent of whom are women. The programme was launched in Morocco in September 30, 2004 and in less than six months instructors from 11 institutions successfully completed their training and enrolled more than 500 students in the CCNA course. Female participation in this programme currently reaches more than 50 percent and 238 students have graduated. In Lebanon, 20 instructors have been trained, and there are currently six active academies with 270 students enrolled, 50 percent of whom are women.

Benefits to the Company

In addition to demonstrating Cisco’s commitment to social responsibility and the professional advancement of women, this partnership has also strengthened the company’s relationships with emerging markets in the developing world. Furthermore, these efforts serve as a catalyst for the continued growth and development of skills that will be required in every country, benefiting not only Cisco, but any company/sector that uses the internet to conduct business, govern society, or educate people.

(Source: Joining Forces for Change: Demonstrating Innovation and Impact through UN-Business Partnerships, UN Global Compact Office 2007)

(Last update 5 January 2008)