Greetings to all of you gathered for the Imagine Cup in Sydney, and especially the female student competitors here tonight. Innovation is the most powerful engine of both worldwide economic growth and sustainable development, and I want to commend all of you who are, so early in your careers, already putting your talent, energy, and creativity towards such amazing projects.
I want to salute Microsoft for their leadership and considerable efforts in organizing this important competition that engages our most promising students around the world in leveraging technology to solve the world’s toughest problems. And, it is especially heartening -- and not surprising --- to see so many talented women among the finalists. In a sector where women are dramatically under-represented, your successes are not only your own, but an inspiration to your peers and the next generation.
One of my favorite quotes was from a visit that Bill Gates made to a certain country. There was a small group of women – one fifth of the audience --sitting on one side of the room, and the other 4/5 of the attendees were men. They were separated by a partition. Toward the end, in the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience noted that this country aimed to be one of the Top 10 countries in the world in technology by 2010 and asked Gates if that was realistic. “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.”
Unfortunately, we still have work to do. In the United States, although women fill close to half of all jobs in the economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This disparity not only undermines opportunities for women, but also exacerbates an economic imbalance as STEM-related jobs are growing at twice the rate of other jobs, yet there is insufficient talent to fill them. It is also a significant factor in women’s lower income levels, as the World Bank – in its recently released Women’s Development Report --- found that the wage gap between men and women is impacted more by the lower-paying job sectors women pursue than wage differences between similar jobs.
The United States is committed to helping women knock down the barriers that too often stymie growth and limit opportunity. President Obama created the position I hold as the U. S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues because he recognizes that we cannot hope to tackle the most difficult challenges that confront the world – whether they have to do with the economy, with peace and security, with health care, or with the environment and so much more – unless women participate fully on every level of society in every nation.
We are working with women around the world to tackle the barriers that keep them from fully participating in the opportunities technology enables. For a woman living at the bottom of the economic pyramid, that may simply be access to a mobile phone that increases her productivity and options. In 2010, Secretary Clinton launched the MWomen Program to close the gender gap of 300 million fewer women who have access to mobile phones in low-to medium income countries. A cell phone can transform a poor woman's life by providing vital health information, teaching literacy, enabling the entrepreneur to know if there's a market on a given day or a farmer to know the weather conditions, protecting women from violence, and enabling poor women to have access to banking –to safely save and transfer resources. USAID is funding a business plan to show mobile tech businesses that serving low-income populations is both a sound business investment and a great social investment.
When it comes to careers in technology, we have found that role models and mentorship can make a tremendous difference. As such, we have created the TechWomen program to bring emerging women technology leaders in the Middle East and Africa to participate in a professional mentorship and exchange program at leading U.S. technology companies. And, we have announced TechGirls, which will bring teenage girls interested in technology from Muslim-majority countries to the United States for an intensive month of educational activities.
Melinda Gates also has offered some wise words on these topics: “I say to myself that on any given day, I’m going to do the best that I can possibly do … it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”
The Imagine Cup is a shining example where we are inspiring the next generation of women and men to stretch the limits of their capabilities and imagination. So I congratulate all of the finalists for your creativity, brilliance and commitment to social good. I wish you much success.