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Creating Opportunities for Women in Developing Countries: Cisco Systems and Partners Work Together to Develop Gender-sensitive ICT training Programs

November 1st, 2001

Presenter: Erin Walsh


On November 1st, the Gender and the Digital Divide Seminar Series held it's 12th seminar, "Creating Opportunities for Women in Developing Countries: Cisco Systems and Partners Work Together to Develop Gender-sensitive ICT training Programs." Erin Walsh, Manager of International Strategies and Partnerships, Worldwide Education, Cisco Systems, Inc. presented Cisco's strategy for addressing the gap between men and women's use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and efforts to mainstream the Gender Initiative throughout the Cisco Networking Academy Program worldwide.

The Academy program was established in 1997, and began with 64 academies in the United States. Since then, the Academy program has expanded to include over 8,700 Academies in 140 countries with more than 250,000 students enrolled1. Since women account for only 18-23% of students in Cisco Systems training programs, female participation is encouraged through reduced course fees, advertisements aimed directly at women, and all-female courses often taught by female instructors. All Instructors are encouraged to examine and, when necessary, reevaluate their teaching methods to ensure they are encouraging female participation and a special Gender Module for Instructors has recently been developed and made accessible for Instructors online. Ms. Walsh stressed the importance of gender-sensitive ICT training programs in a knowledge-based economy.

Cisco and the Cisco Learning Institute (CLI), realizing that women must be given the opportunities offered by the technological revolution, partnered in April 2000 and developed the Gender Initiative project. This initiative seeks ways to increase females' access to IT training and career opportunities through the Cisco Networking Academy Program. The Academy program presents an excellent opportunity to help narrow the gender gap and increase female participation in the Internet economy. The components of the Cisco/CLI Gender Initiative include the following:

- Promote the use of a Gender Module by instructors, now available online
- Analyze curriculum to ensure gender balance
- Establish a critical mass of women in ICT
- Develop a gender web tool with best practices and country examples
- Develop Data analysis
- Have Country assessment
- Create Best Practice strategies for recruitment and retention
- Develop Website:
- Generate Gender listserv - for instructors to share strategies, challenges, success stories regarding recruitment and retention

Ms. Walsh described three examples of projects co-sponsored by Cisco, and designed to incorporate female participation in ICT:

  • Training for African Women in Internet Networking Technology is a joint initiative between Cisco Systems, infoDev and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. The first group, 27 women from 16 different Anglophone countries, graduated in February 2002. The next course will target women in Francophone countries and begin in April 2002. In addition to technical skills, the women also receive training in gender awareness and entrepreneurial skills, empowering them to return and play a leadership role in ICT in their home countries.
  • Least Developed Country (LDC) Initiative , co-sponsored by UNDP, USAID and UNV/UNITes with Cisco Systems, the LDC Initiative encourages female participation in ICT training programs. Cisco Systems has established academies in 30 LDCs and 6 non-LDCs, covering Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. To date, there are nearly 1,500 students enrolled in the Academies established under the LDC Initiative. The program aims to enable LDCs to develop the skilled work force necessary to compete globally in the Internet Economy.


  • E-quality project, a collaborative effort between Cisco Systems, UNIFEM, and the Government of Jordan, designed to raise the participation of women in technology through programs in secondary schools, community colleges, and universities. In Jordan, women constitute 29.6% of computer science students and 13.8% of computer engineering students. The E-quality project is intended to create jobs in Jordan for women in ICT. Based on the success of the project, Cisco Systems and UNIFEM hope to expand the E-quality project to include other Middle Eastern countries.

Many women in the Academy program go on to pursue careers in academia, government and business. When asked if Cisco has statistics on employment rates of those who have completed the Cisco Academy, Ms. Walsh explained that as the projects are still young, hard data on the long term affects of the program is not yet available, however alumni are tracked through a voluntary website which is being further refined.

Upcoming objectives and challenges for the Gender Initiative:

  • Establish key partnerships on the ground: It is necessary to get the support of government, otherwise, efforts risk being obstructed by a prohibitive policy environment, lack of funding, high costs, and limited access. It is also important to have the demands for change coming from the people in the country rather than outside bodies.
  • Assess the impact: Gathering data is necessary to understand the impact of the Academy program. Current data is gathered from a voluntary alumni website. Future work might include looking at the labor market and new opportunities being created for graduates.
  • Addressing the digital divide within countries: Currently there are programs to target at-risk youth in Africa. To help bridge the gap within countries work must be done with local NGOs, donor agencies, government and community leaders.

1In order to participate in Cisco training programs, a math/verbal aptitude equivalent to 7th-8th grade educational level by U.S. standards is necessary.


Cisco Networking Academy Program

LDC Initiative
Cisco Learning Institute Gender Site
Training for African Women in Internet Networking Technology project at UNECA
E-Quality Project in Jordan

Updated: 6/9/04

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