Much has been made of the big diversity challenges facing the tech sector. This problem has several dimensions. While some tech companies worry about having enough skilled STEM workers in an era when white men comprise a shrinking part of the labor force, others have an eye on the reputation of a sector that's often seen as hostile to women. A series of high-profile incidents in Silicon Valley have drawn media attention to this latter issue.
We've been tracking a rising of tide of grantmaking that focuses on diversity and tech. A number of these efforts involve women and girls, and dovetail with another thread of funding that we watch closely focusing on gender equity.
All this is the background for spotlighting the Vodafone Americas Foundation, which recently announced a new initiative to empower women and girls in the technology field, and to use technology to give women new ways to network, learn, build skills, and protect themselves.
In case you're not familiar with Vodafone, it's the second-largest mobile telecommunications company in the world, with a range of philanthropic activities underway, as we've reported. It's worth paying close attention, here, especially given the level of interest in using mobile technology to address social and economic challenges.
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Currently, women only comprise 30 percent of the technology workforce at large tech companies. By providing more ways for women to learn tech skills, get STEM education, and move into leadership roles in tech companies, Vodafone is joining other global corporations like Coca-Cola and Walmart in pivoting toward women’s empowerment in its grantmaking.
Vodafone Americas Foundation currently has three areas of grantmaking focused on sparking innovation, improving lives, and strengthening the global development sector. Now, with this fourth new grantmaking strategy, Vodafone will fund initiatives that leverage technology to improve education and opportunity for women and girls.
This is an area of funding that the Vodafone Americas Foundation has been involved in for a while now. The foundation has supported projects like Girls Who Code and TechGirlz, both of which are helping to bring more women into the tech field. With Girls Who Code, the foundation is funding efforts at bringing computer science education and exposure to one million young women by 2020. As we've written about here, Girls Who Code has many big supporters in the foundation world, including the Knight Foundation. It has also attracted other tech corporate foundation support, including from Verizon, Intel and Adobe. As we've reported, Google is another important player in the growing women's tech space.
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TechGirlz is focused on providing middle school technology and education that engage girls in the tech sector and get them geared up for programming classes in high school. TechGirlz has also attracted funding from venture capitalist Josh Kopelman.
Through this grantmaking strategy, the Vodafone Americas Foundation will also partner with Internews, an international nonprofit “working at the intersection of media, information, and development to ensure people are fully empowered with the information they need.” With a grant from the foundation, Internews will launch a campaign called "Secure" to provide an online toolkit to help women prevent and recover from doxing, trolling, and other forms of online gender-based harassment.
All of this activity points to an increasing awareness among funders of the role that mobile technology can play for women in accessing education, economic opportunity, and security. At the same time, companies like Vodafone are increasingly aware of the needs and priorities of women, both as employees and as consumers. As a clear signal of its commitment to women’s empowerment, in 2015, Vodafone became one of the first organizations in the world to set forth a mandatory minimum maternity benefits standard. Vodafone has also made a commitment to increase women in leadership roles to 30 percent within its company.