Women & Technology

  • 26 Apr 2015 15:41 | Armelle Loghmanian

    Back to PWI Magazine- Q1 2015 edition

    Behind TEDxBarcelonaWomen and

     the driving force of Storytelling,

    interview with Aurélie Salvaire


    by Corina Ciechanow


    Aurélie Salvaire

    Social entrepreneur, connector and catalyst.
    Curator of TEDxBarcelonaWomen

    You are deeply involved in the organization of TEDxBarcelonaWoman , taking place this June in Barcelona.  Could you tell us why and what this event is about?

    What I love about TEDx events is that it gives visibility to people who bring solutions to our world, in a very media-friendly and appealing way.

    I know many women doing great things and men who also work towards a modern society. I like to give them visibility, to get them known and heard by other people, and be inspired by them.

    Why do I care about women? Because it’s ‘The topic’; it's still a battle.  Even if you may think that now it’s ok, it’s not.  For me it’s also a personal subject: I grew up in the south of France where women had to fight to have a voice, and if you had a strong opinion then you ran the risk of being ostracised.

    At the time I worked for Oxfam, in Ethiopia, most of the camp refugees were women, men were fighting or hiding.  Women were very impacted by the conflict. We tried to involve them in our decisions, usually about sanitary issues such as where to put the latrines or water points, to calm them and give them back some sense of responsibility and control over the situation. Having had that experience, my first TEDx event in December 2012 was about Mediterranean women who changed their world. Women explained the different projects in their countries and we had around a hundred people, mostly women, attending. That’s when we realized that we needed men in our speakers and in our audience in order to change something regarding gender balance.

    So in December 2013 we organized the second TEDx event specifically on the topic of getting men involved in gender equality. We had 50% men, 50% women, but the men who came were already working in that field, changing the role of boys and men and their perception of manhood.

    For this year, our third event, we followed this reasoning: what are the leverages that really can shift the balance?  We came up with 2 things: money and media.  So we added them to the previous one and we now have 3 special topics for June 2015 on TEDxBarcelonaWomen: Money, Media and Men.

    For the first topic, we want to show that investing in women is not only a question of human rights, not only a question of social good, but that it is economically profitable. We’ll showcase different initiatives at employee, board and entrepreneur’s level (crowdfunding to invest in women, investment funds for women entrepreneurs and projects that have an impact on girls)

    Our second topic is based on the idea that if we change the perception of women in media a lot will change.  Geena Davis, actress of Thelma and Louise film, launched the Institute on Gender in Media with the motto:  ‘If she can see it, she can be it’. There is also a gender gap in the filming industry, with 1 female character out of 3, so I would like to put it my way: you can’t be what you can’t see.  To change the balance, we want to show female role models in movies, TV, journalism and photography.

    The third topic ‘Men’ is, as before, intended to showcase men involved in gender balance.

    It will be the biggest event I organize in Barcelona, with 900 participants.  And the day after, we will try to use all the brain power or the speakers and do workshops to shape solutions.

    As you told us, this is not your first TEDx event, how did you get involved in this?  Please tell us about your journey.

    Like many of us, I watched many TEDx.  In 2011, I was on holiday with a friend in Salvador de Bahia when I met 2 ladies that were all day long with their computers.  Curious, I asked them what they were doing, and they explained to me that they were organising a TEDx event.  We sympathized, they showed me how it was done and they invited me to the event.  That triggered the idea of doing one in Barcelona, where I was (and still am) living, so I did my first TEDx event in 2012.  I think it was more than just a coincidence, I met the right person at the right time, but nothing is random in life, is it?

    I am French, I was born in the south of France, in the Pyrenees, and I studied in Paris at the HEC Business School.  After graduating I moved to Barcelona in 2002, and began working in  management consulting in the Health sector . I was helping hospitals with their strategy and management, but even though hospitals were helping people, I found that I was lacking a direct social impact; I wanted to contribute to create a better world.  So I looked at the non-profit organisations and switched for Oxfam . I helped them to design and implement the processes and policies for emergency situations, where there is a need to act fast in the field. I did that for 3 years, coordinating the implementation of the plan in 10 countries from Barcelona.  It was pretty exciting and I loved it, so I asked them to move to the field, and went to Ethiopia to work in a camp they had at the border with Somalia. 

    Back at home I wanted to work with a more bottom-up approach as it is done with social entrepreneurs, and not  so much in larger NGO’s that have more of a top-down management system.  That’s when I joined Ashoka , which is a network of entrepreneurs who want to improve the world.  I read a great book ‘How to change the world’ by David Bornstein, who went around the world interviewing social entrepreneurs. This was a key moment for me, because I realised that you don’t have to work for an NGO to do something good, you can create your own project to improve your local reality. Previously I thought that there was a gap between the ‘good’ people working in NGO’s and the rest of the world. At Ashoka I learned that we can ALL change the world wherever we are.

    I collaborated with Ashoka in Paris, and it’s with friends from there that I travelled to Brazil and learned about organizing TEDx events, as I just mentioned.  With that ‘aha’ moment in mind, I looked for my license to organize TEDx events in Barcelona, and then setup my own consulting activities. 

    What else do you do in real life apart from TEDx events?

    I coach companies about diversity and how to develop men and women's full potential. I also train people in storytelling.  This is particularly important for women entrepreneurs and leaders to bridge the voice gap. It helps them communicate better and be more confident, to dare raise their hand for action pickup.

    As I connect with many people from profit and non-profit organisations, Tedx speakers, entrepreneurs, I organize what I call ‘Learning journeys’: I set up events for managers with one particular type of leader having the place of honour, so they get to know her or him and be inspired.

    You mention ‘storytelling’. Being a good presenter is an essential skill nowadays as people's attention is so in demand. People just don’t have the time nor the patience to hear your proposal if you don’t captivate them from the beginning. And not only we, women, are lacking that skill. Could you tell us more about it?

    As you said, we now have an attention span of 10 minutes, so we really need to capture the attention of people. Storytelling is definitely a key skill for that. And a second aspect is that I think that we lack meaningful conversations, there are so many people speaking because they are used to talking, they occupy the space but they're not actually saying anything. It is really important to reconnect with our emotional side, to what make us social beings. 

    When I do a workshop on storytelling, I don’t coach so much on presentation techniques but more on that emotional aspect I mentioned, to help them be more connected with the audience. I make them identify the reason why they do what they do, the profound meaning behind the actions. That’s what’s interesting for the public, to know why you do what you do, what are the values you pursue. The audience can relate to you when they know what is moving you. Because we are all an individual representation of a more general story.

    For me, the trick when creating your story is to put yourself out there and say what YOU think about the situation you are talking about, what YOU believe in. This is much more powerful to communicate to others. 

    Storytelling is powerful not only because people like your speech, but also because it makes you change the perception you have of yourself. When writing your story, if you write it well, it can make you change the way you think about yourself. The way you portray yourself to others is intrinsically linked to how you see yourself. This is extremely powerful. I have seen social entrepreneurs working with kids victim of violence, making them change the way they perceive themselves by saying to them: what happened to you is your strength, not your weakness. They rewrote their story from a different point of view. This is a very powerful tool!

    What are you planning for the near future?

    Basically the idea for me is to combine my different activities: to coach different companies, to visit the balanceshifters all around the world, to finally produce a book or video series.

    I started a blog, 'Shift balance' , to publish the portraits of men and women that are shifting the traditional balance. I am planning a ‘Shift-balance’ tour this year in different countries, interviewing men and women, doing storytelling workshops for companies or universities, and doing it pro-bono for women who need that and may not be able to afford it. 

    And I’ll be speaking about what exists around the world, because there are solutions that exist, that we should diffuse to shift the balance. I'll also be demonstrating that we can all be change makers.  I strongly believe that we all have a role to play in changing the world around us and especially for gender balance, because the tools may be as simple as changing words on an everyday basis. We have so many cheap tools in our hands that have the power to make a difference. I want to be a change maker.

    Thank you Aurélie for this interview, we appreciate what you are doing and keep us informed about your new developments. We wish you a great success on shifting the balance around the world!

    Short Biography

    Aurélie Salvaire

    I am passionate about bringing change to the world through social innovation. Strong advocate of gender equity, I shine light on solutions against prevailing stereotypes. I believe in hidden gems, and a new-world order where emerging countries are perceived as a nest of innovation!

    I was born in the South of France, but Barcelona stole my heart when I moved here after graduating from HEC Business School and an exchange program at Thunderbird School of Global Management in 2002.

    In my spare time, I love diving, especially in wrecks and caves. I also really enjoy traveling to remote places like Uzbekistan or Eritrea and sharing my experiences through my personal blog that I’ve been writing for 7 years now. My prized possession is my library: full of books from all over the world.

    Contacts Details


    Impact HUB Barcelona

    Plaça Reial 18, 1º, 08002  
    Barcelona – SPAIN 

    Linkedin: http://es.linkedin.com/in/asalvaire/

    Founder of The A Factor  and Shiftbalance
    Curator of TEDxBarcelonaWomen  and TEDxBarcelonaEducation







    Back to PWI Magazine - Q1 2015 edition

    Disclaimer -Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PWI, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

  • 08 Feb 2015 13:06 | Armelle Loghmanian

    Gamification in Education,
    interview with Ian Harper 

    by Corina Ciechanow and Armelle Loghmanian


    Ian Harper

    The Bradfield Company Limited

    Ian, you are the spiritual father of the digital story and educational tool 'Inanimate Alice'(1), could you first introduce Alice to us?

    From time to time Inanimate Alice is referred to as a game. My first task, then, is to clarify that it is not a game but a story about games and the people who make them, conveyed in such a way that the resulting production – an interactive, audio-visually illustrated, narrative - has the look and feel of a game-like world.

    Our protagonist, Alice, grows up dreaming of one day becoming a videogame designer. Over the series of 10 episodes - 5 completed to date and the 6th in production - we see her develop her skills from the stickman character she draws when she is 8 years old to the highly rendered 3D game images that are typically found in high-priced AAA game titles. By the end of the series, those final episodes will have the look and feel of such titles while still being primarily a reading experience.

    It is Alice who is narrating her story; as we experience each episode we see the world through her eyes. Written from the point of view of a mid-twenties professional, successful in her career and looking back over her life, viewers are given impressions of Alice’s circumstances and technical capabilities at various points along the way. Each episode is incrementally more complex and 'improved' than the one preceding it, the structure reflecting Alice's artistic skills as she grows older. For example, the recently released episode 5, where Alice is 16, provides a selection of 3D visuals within a two dimensional, linear, storyline while episode 6, where Alice is 18, will be the first episode to be a fully immersive 3D reading experience….just like being inside a videogame.

    It’s a story about Alice's travels around the world - firstly with her parents, then on her own during her Gap Year and finally in pursuit of her career goals.

    The narrative also tells of her career journey and the relationship she has had with the game character she has been developing, seemingly all of her life. Uniquely, Alice has only ever designed one character, her "best friend" Brad. She just keeps making him better and better. For the record, Brad is the manifestation of the internet world we all seem to occupy these days. Everyone stares at screens, small or large, for endless hours and so, in many ways, Brad is the personification of the screen and our relationship with technology.

    I read in Wikipedia that Inanimate Alice was named a ‘Best Website for Teaching & Learning’ by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) in 2012. You also told me it has been incorporated into literacy and digital curricula in the United States and in Australia. Inanimate Alice being an entertaining tool, how is it then that it ended up becoming a tool in the Education sector?

    The story started out as an entertainment, written and developed as the backstory to a transmedia film/game title I had the impression would resolve many of the issues I saw in the earlier works of that genre. Rather than create a game, the creative team came up with the idea of a story with embedded puzzles and mini-games that would provide a deeper impression of what the story is about. Very simple to start with, the challenges become progressively more complex with each subsequent episode. They act as a primer for those who are unfamiliar with videogames.

    Early on, from our website statistics, we noticed that most of the site users were teachers and, importantly, that they represented almost all of the returning traffic. At that time, we decided to actively support those teachers in the use of Alice as an educational tool.

    There are several factors that make a transmedia story such as ‘Inanimate Alice’ a popular tool in Education. Firstly, that the approach to visualisation embraces the same techniques as videogames. The products of this technique immediately capture students’ attention. This level of engagement greatly facilitates the teacher’s job. Also, the interaction and many embedded games ensure it remains compelling on re-reading and delving deep into the various topics that are discussed in the episodes.

    In particular, Inanimate Alice has an extra interesting twist. Our protagonist is a girl who is going into the videogames industry; a rare event in that currently male-dominated environment. We want to avoid stereotypes by creating a role model with Alice and making the point of promoting the videogame industry and the wider ICT sector among girls.

    Could you mention the ‘gamification’ elements present on Alice?

    There are a number of facets to the production that demonstrate the benefits to educators of working with a story constructed in this way:
    1. The script, spare on first reading, has been carefully authored by an award winning novelist who is also a professor of digital media. The quality of the text makes it suitable for the deep reading and re-reading necessary for academic investigation, while the audio-visual backdrop provides a compelling level of engagement that attracts students and teachers alike.

    2. Multiple layers that run alongside the main thread of the story provide themes that allow teachers to expand into areas that are of interest to them. Layers and themes provide opportunities to teach across the curriculum, not just reading and writing. Peer pressure and bullying, for example, is the core theme of episode 4. Even after several viewings of the episodes teachers find that there is more to uncover. Even then, most folks entirely miss the fact that there is a strong branding theme running through the episodes. The branding of children is an issue of deep concern to many these days yet we seem to be so inured to branding that we overlook it entirely.

    3. Superficially the interactivity provided may appear rather simplistic to begin with. It has been designed in that way to ensure a minimal barrier to entry. By the time we reach episode 5 Alice has produced a fully playable skateboard game with scoring and time constraints that provoke challenge and raise excitement. Perhaps the more important interactive element, one only latterly understood, is the opportunity for students to contribute their own episodes to the storyline. In the long wait for episode 5 to be released, hundreds of "unofficial" episodes fives have appeared, created by eager students. We have seen many of these and enjoyed having students take Alice on adventures to places we would not have imagined. Now, with the release of the “official” episode 5, we have showcased just a few of them on the site. More will be appearing. Students are encouraged to develop episodes and to paint Alice into the scenery local to where they live.
    The team behind Alice continues to guide teachers on how to get the most from working with the series. We are showcasing the work of those teachers and students who fully embrace its potential as in the wonderful example of Kentucky Teacher of the Year Kristal Doolin: http://inanimatealice.info/create/

    What are the main benefits of this approach? Do you have tangible elements to evaluate this effect?

    Although personal computers have been in existence for over 30 years and increasing numbers have found their way into classrooms, only now are we starting to see the big shift towards digitally-delivered education. This transition is a one-way street. As we move inexorably towards 1:1 classrooms (where every student has their own device) new start teachers are heard to say “I don’t do paper.”

    The other big change fast appearing is the move away from textbooks with their year-long agendas to content acquisition in “bite-sized chunks”.

    As a ”born-digital” title Inanimate Alice responds to the demands of digital delivery and availability according to the needs of a particular lesson. The highly-engaging quality of the work means that the teacher has the immediate attention of every student in the classroom. Through revisiting the storyline from time to time both teachers and students benefit from building on a story that keeps on growing, keeps on providing more and more strands that pull readers in.

    The story is motivational for those who think that one day they might aspire to a career in the digital arts. Through the provision of interactive challenges and the ability to create their own episodes young people feel that they are part of the story.

    Although the title has a large audience of teachers and their students around the world a substantial number of whom provide anecdotal evidence of their successes, we have yet to undertake the formal research that will provide the necessary measures of those successes. We know that Inanimate Alice works and works very well; the results are palpable. We need to put some numbers around that and hope to do so this year.

    There is a big opening market on gamification, could you explain to our readers the misconception you see that prevents women to enter the digital media business?

    I see some misconceptions about women in professional roles and how those misconceptions can be detrimental to women's prospects even before they start out looking at a particular sector. It is an interesting juxtaposition that approximately 80% of teaching positions are held by females whereas in the videogame industry only one-in-five are female. Clearly, educators are not pointing girls towards jobs in the games industry and surely this is a problem.

    Let's take the current impressionable example I feel that is misguided by Bill Gates and others, that in order to get into the digital world you need to be able to code. Now we see schemes being proposed where kids will be spending a good deal of their time learning to code. This is not wrong, but it is a misrepresentation, one that can put the idea into young people's heads that "there is no point me trying to get a job in games, if I cannot code."
    In the same way as you don't need to be an engineer to be in the oil and gas business, you don't need to be a coder to be in computer games. As it matures, the videogames industry -and the wider marketplace of digital jobs- needs professionals across many disciplines, not just coders.

    Key to addressing this misconception is getting across messages that, to put it crudely, don't "blow them off too early". My view is that we need to focus more on the Art and Culture aspects of game creation - not just the coding. Let's focus on the wider digital media sphere.

    We could take a look at the example of the team we have put together for Episode 6 of Alice.....this is not a game of course, but it is becoming more game-like all the time:
    • Creative : 2 Male/2 Female
    • Educators : 1 Male/4 Female
    • Business - Project Management, Marketing/PR : 1 Male/2 Female

    Rather than holding to the idea of how wonderful it would be to code, I feel sure that capturing the attention of young people through Art and Culture will underscore the greater success. As software becomes more sophisticated there is less need to code and more call for artistic vision to stretch the capability of the existing tools.

    Both the publishing and education sectors have greater gender equality than video games. As we see publishing meeting technology and becoming “born-digital” we envisage a future that today’s eBook publishers can only dream of. As education moves inexorably towards nationally delivered digital agendas we can expect the gender balance pendulum to swing back. It is to be hoped that Inanimate Alice will have a part to play in making that happen.


    (1) Inanimate Alice site: www.inanimatealice.com

    Short Biography

    At the tender age of 50 and with a raw idea in his head Ian Harper attended the UK’s National Film and Television School to learn how to write for the screen. With two screenplays under his belt he has created the role of digital novel producer developing plans for a studio to complete the Inanimate Alice series while producing five further titles in a similar vein.

    Contacts Details

    Production Company - The Bradfield Company Limited: www.brad-field.info

    Disclaimer -    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradfield Company Limited, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

  • 27 Sep 2014 22:58 | Armelle Loghmanian


    Interview  of Patrice Chazerand

    By Armelle Loghmanian and Corina Ciechanow 


    Patrice Chazerand

    Director of Digital Economy and Trade Groups, DIGITALEUROPE

    Patrice, could you present us Digital Europe to us?

    DIGITALEUROPE is the voice of the digital industry in Europe. Its membership combines about 60 corporations at the leading edge of global competition in IT, consumer electronics and network equipment, and 36 national trade associations which provide us with a unique gateway to thousands of SMEs across Europe.

    On top of its regular advocacy on a variety of topics (see reference [1]), DIGITALEUROPE has been running the successful ‘e-Skills Week’ programmesprogramme in 2010 and 2012.

    More recently, the European Commission has entrusted us with organizing the ‘e-Skills for Digital Jobs’ campaign of 2014 on top of managing the secretariat of the ‘Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs’, a considerably more ambitious project that bears the hallmark of Vice President Kroes’ vision of a whole generation of Europeans possibly lost if radical steps are not taken immediately  to address the shocking paradox of more than 50% of 16-24 year olds being out of a job in several Member States while the e-skills shortage is stuck in the vicinity of 700,000 EU-wide . It took the whole Barroso II Commission only a few months to make the Grand Coalition one of its top priorities. I refer to these initiatives since they afforded us more than one opportunity to engage with the team behind PWI and to work together on the many ICT-related issues that are dear to your hearts and to ours.

    Speaking of the European Commission, a few words may be in order as regards the new college shaped by President Jean-Claude Juncker. Gamification resulting mainly, as we will see, from a cross-fertilization between a business born digital and other industries, it is not immaterial to see copyright – the single most important driver of open culture and education - put under the wing of the digital agenda: assuming that Member States will agree to sing together from this innovative song sheet, Europe’s Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) will eventually operate in a seamless Digital Single Market, thus eventually affording Europe the chance to play the ACE card it has been hiding up its sleeve for too long. With luck, European content will keep holding the world spellbound, for once to the direct benefit of European creators. One additional reason for hope in this respect is a recent decision by the French government – a stalwart of the resistance to unfettered digital culture – to entrust a former minister for the digital economy with the C ulture portfolio. Can we think of more cogent evidence that the digital revolution is marching on to Paris?

    Let’s hope so! Another French revolution! Patrice, you just talk about gamification, it is an emerging trend that could be used by many different industries. Can you tell us in In a few words, what people mean  by 'gamification'?

    The essence of gamification boils down to borrowing a few leaves out of the videogame success story. It focuses on game technology and the specifics of a typical gameplay. Indeed, while the producers of interactive software - the code name for videogames – keep growing their share of the world’s entertainment markets and of the broader ‘digital lifestyle’, the influence wielded by their products and services pervades regular business as well. This is best illustrated in education, training and health (see details below).

    There is much more to it though than sheer technology, however sophisticated. Games reflect the imagination of artists whose creativity matches that of professional authors, composers, movie directors, etc. Games are replete with total immersion, instant feedback, peer learning, opportunities to compete or to coalesce with fellow gamers, --- all features that happen to nurture innovation, problem-solving, teamwork, hence to provide the most valuable building blocks on which to run a business.

    However, gamification reaches out well beyond business, to the delight of lobbyists thus afforded countless examples to quote on making a case for the many benefits the digital economy holds  for all . Actually key to the ever increasing appeal of the internet is the way interactive software, combined with other cutting-edge technologies, enables users to act as both producers and consumers of data.

    Can you describe some sectors of industry where gamification is already used and how? 

    The Health sector is undergoing a radical transformation as a result of growing gamification. Take the example of the consortium that won France’s call for ‘serious games’ projects back in 2009. MoJOS (Moteur de Jeu Orienté Santé) was a clear winner. It is now a fully developed product that has assisted the rehabilitation of hundreds of stroke patients, see reference [2]. Indeed self-motivation guided by professionals works wonders at customizing a gliding path to recovery. It spares the time and trouble to call at practitioners’ offices. The developers of this leading-edge tool would occasionally wish for the time when it is prescribed like regular medicines, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this would expose a regulatory dilemma between light-touch regulation applied to digital products and services and the strict constraints under which the pharmaceutical industry operates.

    Going back to the above hints at how games’ bounty materializes, and helps map out the many areas currently or potentially concerned by gamification. Its magic originates in a carefully structured transfer of the main features that make videogames so attractive to an increasing number of people:
    • Total immersion, a way for teachers to recapture students’ long gone attention
    • Instant feedback, most effective in patients’ rehabilitation
    • Risk -free experimenting, much appreciated in training to exposed occupations such as flying planes, fire-fighting, mine-sweeping, etc, all areas where digital simulation is praised as a true game-changer
    • Telling friends from foes: forming a league online tests abilities to make the most of a team in the real world; defeating virtual enemies hones self-defense skills in real life.
    Even investment traders cannot do without gamification, probably because they share with gamers a common impatience with latency (see reference [3])

    But the sector that best exemplifies the benefits of gamification is education. The process has been underway for decades, whether with book publishers, at school or at home. Today’s young students gather more information on Wikipedia, on social networks or while playing games than in the classroom. The role of playing in acquiring knowledge and skills - or learning by doing - was originally explained by Piaget and Johan Huizinga, who coined the term Homo Ludens.

    Nowadays Sir Ken Robinson is a brilliant evangelist of this cause on the conference circuit: he would call it the dawn of learning in the information age and relish the end of education shaped around the needs of the industrial revolution. Sadly, the introduction of games in the classroom – a kind of ‘gamification in education 101’ – remains confined to a limited number of experiments, however successful: see [4].

    From our discussion I understand that you have plans in the near future to walk your readers through one of the best examples of gamification in education: Inanimate Alice (www.inanimatealice.com) indeed shows how a great deal of the production churned out by school book publishers is morphing towards transmedia as demonstrated on 8 October at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

    The gaming industry has extended its reach outside their traditional sector, how do you see the game industry evolving?

    Yes, there is a wealth of other industries transformed - or poised to be transformed – by gamification. Take book publishing: not only are children’s and school books morphing into ‘transmedia’ by virtue of the above-described revolution in learning but the other three main streams of that business are informed by the increasing merits readers see in a gaming-style experience (see Technology and Innovation for Smart Publishing–TISP [5]).

    Accordingly, the gaming sector is not content with transforming adjacent industries; it is reinventing itself all the time. As a testimony to this continuing revolution, you can spot the rise – and fall at times, as borders are blurring constantly – of a fully-fledged taxonomy that includes serious games, casual games, mobile games, etc. Never a dull moment in that industry!

    In light of my above considerations, a sizeable part of ICT-transformed businesses owe their new ‘face’ to gamification, arguably. The same holds true for productivity enhancement.

    In conclusion, the gamification of business is definitely gathering steam . Although France’s Colin & Collin report [6]on the taxation of the digital economy is not aimed to address this particular development, some of their findings are worth quoting regardless:

    In light of my above considerations, a sizeable part of ICT-transformed businesses owe their new ‘face’ to gamification, arguably. The same holds true for productivity enhancement.

    You can eventually see gamification as a by-product of this winning combination: on one hand, the giant strides taken by digital technology in pervading our economy and our social life; on the other hand, timeless human nature still operating by this Chinese saying: “Tell me, I will forget; show me, I will remember; involve me, I will understand/create”.

    Thank you Patrice for your insights - gamification is a lot more serious than most expect!  We will be continuing this discussion of serious games in different industries. 

    [1]   DIGITALEUROPE http://www.digitaleurope.org
    MoJOS http://www.voracy.com
    [3]   Gamification on Trading http://www.tradersdna.com/social-media-trading/gamification-online-trading/
    [4]   Games in school http://games.eun.org/2009/05/games_in_schools_conference_op.html#more
    [5]  TISP http://www.smartbook-tisp.eu/
    [6] Colin & Collin report 

    Short Biography

    Patrice Chazerand is Director in charge of Digital Economy and Trade Groups at DIGITALEUROPE.

    Prior to joining DIGITALEUROPE, Patrice Chazerand was the Secretary-General of the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE), the trade body of PC and videogames publishers operating in Europe between 2002 and 2009. In this capacity he has established PEGI, the only pan-European system of harmonised rating of digital content dealing with various topics such as internet content, protection of minors, privacy, freedom of expression and intellectual property; competition law as applied to interactive and user-generated content; Net neutrality, etc.

    In 1999, Patrice Chazerand set up the Brussels office of Viacom which he ran as Vice President, European Affairs until 2002. During this tenure with Viacom he dealt with audiovisual content creation and distribution on all platforms, anti-piracy, EU audiovisual issues.

    From 1989 to 1995, Patrice Chazerand was Director, Public Affairs, at AT&T France, and subsequently Managing Director from 1995 to 1999. He has extensive knowledge of telecom services and networks: regulation, interconnection, universal service, broadband deployment, next gen networks, etc.

    Patrice Chazerand spent the first fifteen years of his career with the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, seven of which were at the Embassy of France in Washington.

    Contacts Details
    +32 2 609 5312

    Disclaimer -    
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of DIGITALEUROPE, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
  • 16 Jun 2014 23:25 | Armelle Loghmanian

     Interview with Ada Sekirin,
    the “ICT Woman of the Year” award winner 2013 

    By Corina Ciechanow


    Ada Sekirin

    Vice President Benelux & East Europe
    Business & Decision

    Ada, last year you received the Datanews award “ICT Woman of the year”. Could you present yourself and tell us about your career?

    I studied information technology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).  The degree was quite new, it was only the 6th year it was being given, to help you identify the period: we were programming with punch cards! In 1992, along with some friends I founded a consultancy company for the banking sector called “Flux Consultancy” where I took care of the area of data warehouse.  It was the very beginning of that sector, to give you an example: I was personally involved in the construction of various major bank players’ data warehousing like CGER, Général de Banque, BBL, Crédit Communal. 

    In 2001, the company employed  around 40 people and was acquired by Business & Decision, a much larger French company.  I stayed onboard with the company, and three years later I became Director of  B&D Belgium, a company specialized in Business Intelligence.  Today we have 2 entities in Belgium: B&D Life Science and B&D Consultancy with more than 380 employees and we also purchased companies in Luxembourg, Netherlands and Russia.  I’m in charge of this region that is generating 40 Million €.

    Could you please detail for us the main obstacles you have encountered in your career?

    I don’t feel I have encountered any external disadvantages because I am a woman; I have always been recognized for my work.  My main challenges had always been internal: feeling uncertain of my capacities, auto-limiting myself.  Those doubts of how far I could go may be typical for a woman though they are not limited to the female gender.  I think it’s normal to have doubts and even beneficial to reflect on your capacities, but you have also to think whether you really want to do it, to take the new responsibilities.  And then at one time you have to overcome the doubts and make a decision. 

    I should say that at B&D I was offered the position of Director three times before accepting it, so it seems the others believed in me before I was ready for the challenge myself!

    Since I became Director, I have had propositions from companies that I didn’t want to join even though I was offered better pay or a greater visibility.  For me there are other considerations that are more important, like the culture of the company.  I stayed a long time with Business & Decision and my reward is seeing our company growing into a European style mid-size company with the culture of paying attention to people.

    What changed for you since you received the award?

    Contacts are easier than before. After getting the award, it is easier to get appointments with potential customers.  I have to confess that this was one of the objectives: I participated in the contest following the sales department’s advice, because I wanted to do more networking and make the company known.  Our company is not a small one, we have more than 380 consultants in Belgium and yet we are not well known by the public. This award greatly improved the visibility and the image of Business & Decision.

    At the “She goes ICT” 2014 event you took the opportunity to present your initiative “My Digital Future”, could you explain it to us?

    My Digital Future(1) has the objective of promoting ICT(2) careers and fostering entrepreneurship amongst students from secondary schools in Brussels, especially from the ones situated in disadvantaged neighborhoods.  We proposed an intensive hands-on training during the November break available to the 6th year of senior school.  We particularly target those schools because 30% of young people in Brussels are unemployed, and also because ICT can play an integrating social role.  This program creates at least ‘digital awareness’: just to understand how to create a website or do a mobile application will give them a big advantage.  It will be useful for them in any domain they’ll end up working for.  We also teach programming, and at the end of the workshops they can submit a project to win an award of 1.000€.  You would be surprised by the very interesting projects we had this year.

    At PWI we are sensitive to the gender issue, and anyone in ICT knows there are not many women in this domain, can you share your views and experience on this challenge?

    We have 15 percent of girls attending our training (4 girls out of 27 participants), which is the same representation of female presence in any technological career.  We can compare that with India where 50% of students in ICT are female. 

    I think it’s a question of motivation and ambition.  Traditionally, family is very important for women, so taking good care of their husband and family is seen as more important than their personal ambition: women seem happy without reaching a high professional level.  As I see it, there is more social pressure on the professional side for men and more on the family side for women.  And it begins when a girl comes home with her boyfriend, the family will not be happy if the boy is not a ‘good candidate’, meaning his studies or career are not prestigious enough.  The other way around wouldn’t cause so much of a fuss. Later on, women think that their husband’s career should be more important than theirs or at least equally successful; they refrain from taking more valuable positions than their husband, sacrificing their career for his.
    Do you see a positive result of your efforts to bring young people to ICT?  What do you see as the future for your program?

    We have a very positive result: 75% of the participants to our training program say they will be following a career in ICT.  The hands-on training demystified IT and changed the image of this career that it consists only of programming.  Now they know it also involves communication and collaboration.
    As for the future, I would love to see more companies involved in this awareness program because we need help to increase our reach.  We are looking for volunteers to run the workshops but also for companies that could sponsor this program and ensure that their employees have some time to organize them.

    What advice would you give to girls?  Will you encourage them to go into ICT?

    Yes!  It’s not so techy if you forgive the expression, newer tools are much easier to understand and women have strong skills in communication and collaboration.  ICT is coming to all domains, so I would recommend adding an extra year to all degree courses to give students the needed digital tools.

    Thank you very much for sharing your insights from your career and your view of the future in the ICT field. We congratulate you for your merited award and wish this article will motivate others to collaborate with you and extend your social IT program!

    Short Biography

    Ada Sekirin was born in Russia. She came to Belgium when she was 17, in the late 1970s. She studied a Masters in Information Technology at the ULB and later an MBA from Brussels Open University. After her studies, Sekirin worked for a while as a consultant in the financial sector. In 1994, she became founding partner of Flux Consultancy and developed the Business Intelligence expertise of the company. After the acquisition of Flux Consultancy by Business & Decision (end of 2001) and the merger, in 2003, with SPSInfoquest's Belgian subsidiary, creating Business & Decision Benelux, Ada Sekirin was appointed Director of Business & Decision Benelux, running also activities in Russia and Italy. Sekirin is married and has four daughters. In early 2013 the ICT trade journal ‘Data News’ voted her ‘ICT Woman of the Year’.

    Contact Details

    e-mail:  ada.sekirin@businessdecision.com
    gsm:  +32 475 36 37 30
    website: www.businessdecision.com



    (1) Youtube video “My Digital Future”

    (2) ICT: Information and Communication Technology
    Disclaimer -     Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Business & Decision, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement
  • 26 Feb 2014 23:46 | Armelle Loghmanian

    The New Learning Style

    By Corina Ciechanow


     Corina Ciechanow

    VP Women & Technology

    The next Revolution for Higher Education?

    When we think of higher education, we normally think of spending 3 to 5 years of study, in a well-known institution at a considerable cost. What if you could follow the same courses from the comfort of your home, at your own pace, and with a much lower cost or even for free? Welcome to the world of Massive Open Online Courses!

    [photo from Mathieu Plourde's MOOC poster]

    Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs, pronounced “mooks”) are online courses open to almost everybody who has access to the Internet, and they are also usually free, or very accessible.
    Top class universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Michigan or more nearby the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) have already adopted this trend and are offering very interesting subjects. Many others are following, as they see this opportunity as the evolution of the traditional distance education, and a new way to extend their reach to a public that was not theirs before as the cost doesn’t vary much even for thousands of students more.

    How does it work?

    Go to edX, Coursera, or just google ‘MOOC’ and browse through the list of courses until you find a subject you are interested in. To follow a course you have to enroll by giving your name and email coordinates, and don’t forget to check the schedule associated with it: there is a beginning date, a given rhythm at which you’ll be presented with the lessons, and exam dates. The course is usually given through videos or podcasts (audio) that are released every 1 or 2 weeks, and there are exercises and assignments to be done and transferred to the website.

    As the audience is extremely large (there are courses of up to 100.000 students enrolled), the assistance and evaluation is a crucial issue in the MOOCs development. It’s impossible to have as many assistants as would be required to correct each assignment :- ), and though it is easy to automatically correct multiple choice questions, it’s less obvious to provide help and feedback on why the student is mistaken.

    Also not everything can be evaluated through multiple-choice questions, some subjects demand open questions. Imagine a Creativity course, how could you put the choices in advance when you are asking creativity from people? And what about courses that aim at teaching you writing techniques? You would like them to provide a sample of a text that respects certain constraints, not easy to automatically correct that. Not to count the easiness of cheating if you manage to have the file with the results for a questionnaire …

    So they have come up with different techniques to cope with these challenges, such as promoting peer-evaluation, crowdsourcing corrections and more.

    The platform where you enroll for a course also provides interactive forums that help build a community for the students and professors. It is nice not to feel alone, to share your problems and get some answers or to help others to solve theirs and gain some reputation on the community.

    The impact on traditional education

    Classical education is usually given through classes consisting of a professor speaking and conveying all the theoretical information. The student has then to understand and memorize this, do exercises and he/she is ready for the exam.

    Now that so much information is reachable through Internet, there is no reason to attend classes. Even if we are not talking about closing universities and other institutions, you could have ‘The Best’ professor on a particular subject in a video. Professors would be more useful indicating where to find the information, and being there in the class to help interpret it, to discuss and go further on the subject.

    This graphic shows that a third of the US students follow an online course, so professors cannot dismiss this trend.

    Best tool for Continuous Education!

    What about the millions of other people who are not planning to enroll in higher education? MOOCs allow anybody to learn about different subjects. But anybody means people with different backgrounds, who may not complete the full course because of lack of previous knowledge, but also with different interests and studying for different reasons, so they may need only a topic of the course. MOOCs are being designed for that use, they are usually structured in logical units, chapters talk about a specific topic, so you can take whatever part you want to learn, and just ignore the rest.

    MOOCs statistics

    How are MOOCs doing? It’s clear that not all who enroll finish the course, but statistics can be depressing: they show that about 50% of enrolled students quit in the first week and 16% do so in the second week. And only 5% obtain a certificate of completion.

    Are these numbers showing MOOCs are not doing well? Not if we take into account that some people take just the chapters they are interested in, and disregard the rest. And many others who register for a course are engaging substantially even though not earning a certificate. Registering for a course does not imply the student is committing to complete it; he/she just studies what he needs from it.

    Justin Reich & Andrew Ho wrote an article about why traditional evaluation measures like completion rates are not good to evaluate the success of MOOCs:

    “One of the first HarvardX courses, JusticeX, was originally produced as a PBS series by WGBH in Boston. Professor Michael Sandel has 12 video lectures from that series that were posted on YouTube in September of 2009. The first video has nearly 5 million views. The second has 1.2 million views. By the fifth video, views have declined to about 200,000 views for each video. Rather than decry this “5 percent completion rate” as a crisis in public broadcasting, we find it remarkable that Michael Sandel can post a 45 minute video lecture on moral reasoning and get 5 million views. Anyone who watched one video or all twelve is a little wiser for their efforts.

    Societal changes

    • Democratizing education
    Last year, Stephen Colbert from Comedy Central’s Colbert Report interviewed Anant Agarwal, the president of edX, a MOOC platform that hosts courses from HarvardX and MITx. Stephen asked: ‘why those universities would offer the courses for free?’ Anant said they follow this motto ‘Educating the world is a better world for everybody’
    As the best known universities are doing MOOCs, they are giving the opportunity to anyone around the globe who has Internet access to attend excellent education. It’s democratizing education, and I’m sure it will translate in a boom of start-ups that will boost innovation and the economy.
    • Learn-as-you-need
    Another radical change is the fact that you can search for courses on the topics that you need in a particular moment, without having to commit to a full educational course of studies. This trend is called ‘learn-as-you-need’.
    Higher education offers predefined degrees that contained a fixed list of courses you have to follow. With the abundance of MOOCs, you have the freedom to choose among different subjects as you please, and you could customize the learning to your specific need or will. This is particularly interesting during continuous education, as advances in technology create new fields in your profession, but also along the way you may need competences in domains other than your studies.
    • Change of values: knowledge as a valuable asset?
    Professors and other people with great knowledge are seen as an important group in society. It takes time to reach that level of education, and the effort was equaled by respect from society. But as everything in our economy, now that almost any subject is reachable and there is an abundance of knowledge, its value diminishes. Value is moving from just having the knowledge to how you use it.

    What are the actual shortfalls of MOOCs?

    The most important shortfall is the loss of being part of the student body of an institution. Spending part of your day in the classroom, gives you much more than raw knowledge, it gives you access to other people who are on a similar path, and who are eager to share knowledge, discuss, argue and challenge the current status of the sciences, opening your mind even further to new ideas. Being in a ‘campus’ also allows for the creation of your future professional network.

    Unfortunately this side of the experience of being a student cannot be fully replaced with technology, though a limited version is being done through the forums that allow user exchanges, creating even reputations for some contributors along the way.

    There is also the issue of focus. By committing yourself to a curriculum with a fixed calendar and known goals, you are forced to review your priorities, and focus on getting the maximum benefits from your time at university. With the overabundance of MOOCs, this sense of focus, and clear objectives is reduced to your own inner motivations. There will always be another chance to take that MOOC, especially if the cost of missing the current one is zero. So you risk entering into a perpetual cycle of postponing finishing the courses that you have started.

    In conclusion, MOOCs may change higher education in the future, but for now it’s a superb tool to update yourself and learn all those subjects you were interested in but haven’t had the time to look into them.

    We will do a presentation about MOOCs at PWI, come and ask me the best courses I took!

    Do not hesitate to comment or ask your questions by mail to technology@pwi.be. You may find more details on these technological subjects in my blog at bitsofknowledge.waterloohills.com


    Main MOOCs websites:
    edX: http://www.edX.org/
    Khan Academy: http://www.khanacademy.org/
    Coursera: http://www.coursera.org/
    Udacity: http://www.udacity.com/

    Short Biography

    Corina Ciechanow is the owner and managing partner of Waterloo Hills, an IT consultancy company focusing on project management, data science and Internet businesses. Since 2008 Waterloo Hills has been helping companies to cope with the challenge of managing IT projects in a highly connected, culturally diverse and very dynamic society. Corina also gives seminars and blogs about data science and crowdsourcing.

    She is a Board member at PWI, leading the ‘Women & Technology’ program. The objective is to raise awareness on technological advances that have an impact on our society and on our current business environment.

    Contacts Details: 
    Corina Ciechanow
    VP Women & Technology @PWI
    Managing Partner @Waterloo Hills
    email address: technology@pwi.be , corina@waterloohills.com
    website blog: bitsofknowledge.waterloohills.com

    Disclaimer -      
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PWI, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
  • 13 Oct 2013 17:19 | Armelle Loghmanian

     Project Management, the Agile Way 

    By Corina Ciechanow


    Corina Ciechanow

    VP Women & Technology

    Projects are easy to manage when they are well defined ;-) and there are neither changes nor interferences with their planning. Let’s be realistic, it’s almost never the case.

    Today, projects are intertwined with one another, dependent on other projects or divisions in the same company, and that makes management more complex: a small impact in one of the linked projects may have devastating results on the planning of your project.

    Agile management is a methodology that allows plans to be quickly adapted as the situation evolves. This is great for a continuously changing environment. It is also well suited for complex projects or for situations with unknowns, where variables are not well defined. This is the reality for almost all projects today.

    To be honest, this is not (completely) an article about project management following the ‘Agile’ way. For me, adopting Agile principles is also and more importantly, a way of re-instating good values in our business environment. I will describe for you that Agile embraces great values I’m convinced we must encourage, that will not only improve the economy, but also transform our society for the better, making us happier!

    What is the Agile way?

    The basic change from classical Project Management is going from a hierarchical organization to a more collaborative environment. For an agile methodology to work, we must empower the participants, letting them know:
    • That each member is professionally responsible for his task;
    • She/he will be entrusted to work autonomously;
    • All the different skills are needed to complete the project, so each member is as valuable as any other one.
    • He/She deserves (and will get) respect from everyone.

    Thus, by creating a sentiment of trust between members, they will be motivated to do their best, and feel safe enough to open up and have the courage to say when things go wrong. The project also gains in transparency and risks can be better managed.

    To adopt it you have firstly to brief all the participants on the spirit of respect, openness, transparency and collaboration that you expect them to show. Make them embrace these values, give them autonomy and create a safe environment of trust and confidence, so that they get the courage needed to be transparent. And show them the benefits for the business but also for them at a personal level.

    What are the gains for the business?

    An Agile project management methodology is a great tool for risk management. Not only because of its transparency, but also because it promotes cutting the project into small but complete deliverable features and uses them to make many rapid deliveries.

    When a risk materializes, you can take a tactical move and change direction without losing all the time and effort already invested in the project. It is also particularly well suited to implement any Change management project because you can implement in sizeable parts, and adapt the plan based on feedback from previous iterations.

    The picture below illustrates a typical SCRUM process: from the full list of things to do (the ‘product backlog’), there are only a subset of tasks chosen to be done on an iteration (this is the ‘sprint backlog’).
    In this diagram the iteration is 2 to 4 weeks long to deliver a potentially shippable product. Each day of those 2-4 weeks there is a ‘daily SCRUM meeting’ that usually takes place in the mornings where each member talks about what they did the day before, what they intend to do today, and any problem they encountered.  These meetings force the team members to communicate with each other, and facilitate the discovery of blocking points.  And good communication is one of the foundations for success.

    Chart 1- SCRUM process

    The tools used on an Agile methodology vary from one method to another, but to give you an example coming from the SCRUM method, you can make visible the advancement of the project for all stake-holders with the SCRUM-board and the Burn-down chart.

    Hereunder is a drawing of a SCRUM-board with the 3 important columns: the 1rst. one is for TO-DO tasks (labeled here NOT CHECKED OUT), under the 2nd. column are the things in hand (CHECKED OUT, or also usually labeled DOING) and in the 3rd. column, the tasks that are finished (DONE).

    The Burn-down chart shows the theoretical decrease in workload (usually a straight line) and the actual situation.

    Chart 2- Image of a SCRUM-board and also a Burn-down chart

    This way of working makes the team more professional, making each individual responsible for the result, the planning and the budget. And it improves continually, as at the end of each iteration there is a ‘Retrospective’ session where people reflect on the pitfalls and understand their lessons learned, which allows them to be more accurate for their next estimates.

    What is in it for the team members?

    The method defines clearly the roles and responsibilities, so everyone is explicitly reminded of what he is expected to do, but he/she also knows what the other members’ responsibilities are. In SCRUM there is a special role: the SCRUM-Master who has as one of their attributes the protection against external interferences. He takes care that the other team members are not distracted or interrupted by any interference, or at least he makes this distraction visible, explicitly indicating it to all stakeholders. This allows the other team members to concentrate on their task. There is also much more autonomy as each member can choose the task he wants to work on from the list of tasks to do, (obviously he has to choose among the ones for which he is competent :- ). There are regular contacts with the client, so there is more visibility of the business objectives for the team members, and the satisfaction of getting direct feedback for their work. It also empowers the team by giving them the possibility to question their own organization, and to change the way the team works based on the team feedback. This leads to self-management.

    And what do I see as the impact on our society?

    As I mentioned already, as this method reacts quicker, there is less waste of resources by not doing things that were in the original plan but are not adapted or needed anymore in the actual situation. 
    Also the gain in visibility allows for a better allocation of resources. As we clearly see the flow of work, we can move resources to where there is a bottleneck, improving the overall productivity by better balancing the teams.

    At an individual level, with self-managed professionals, respected by everyone, being in control of their work, each of the members will be working in the flow. I’m convinced that we will have happier people at work, their self-esteem boosted, and that will reflect on all the other aspects of their life.

    Final Considerations

    I hope I have convinced you to give it a try! And if you are still not sure, you can also ask us at PWI to organize a workshop on Agile methodology, to take place next year, or ask me, I will be happy to explain it in more detail. You’re right as you guessed I’m a fan of this method!
    Do not hesitate to comment or ask your questions by mail to technology@pwi.be. You may find more details on these technological subjects in my blog at bitsofknowledge.waterloohills.com

    Agile Management http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_management
    The Agile Manifesto http://agilemanifesto.org

    Short Biography

    Since 2008 Corina Ciechanow is the owner and managing partner of Waterloo Hills, an IT consultancy company focusing on project management, data science and Internet businesses. She helps companies to cope with the challenge of managing IT projects in a highly connected, culturally diverse and very dynamic society, and also making seminars and blogging about data science and crowdsourcing.

    She is a Board member at PWI, leading the ‘Women & Technology’ program. The objective is to raise awareness on technological advances that have an impact on our society and on our current business environment.

    Contacts Details: 
    Corina Ciechanow
    VP Women & Technology @PWI
    Managing Partner @Waterloo Hills
    email address: technology@pwi.be , corina@waterloohills.com
    website blog: bitsofknowledge.waterloohills.com

    Disclaimer -     
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PWI, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
  • 28 Jul 2013 12:47 | Armelle Loghmanian

    Promoting Engineering to Girls

    Interview with Valerie Tanghe
    By Corina Ciechanow

    Valerie Tanghe

    Responsible for Billing Projects

    Valerie, could you please tell us how you got involved in promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to girls?

    By education, I am an engineer, and already at University you see that there are not so many female colleagues, you feel like an exception. It didn’t bother me because I was very interested in my studies. After graduating, I began working in a completely male environment, and at that point I started to feel lonely, being the only woman in many teams.  In 1996 I discovered the women engineers’ think tank at the Flemish Engineering Association (KVIV). I joined them, and it was great to have female engineers with whom to share my experiences on (for example) my male colleagues’ reactions.

    This ‘Vrouw & Ingenieur’ (1) group had already been established for 20 years.  They have gone to schools and produced brochures to try and motivate young female school students to study engineering, convincing them that it was a fantastic job.  I did it too as a volunteer, and I probably convinced many of them, being a role model for the girls.  The association also helps young professionals in their career, also helping them to understand (and teaching them how to deal with) certain reactions which men typically make, providing them with training and workshops, for example to negotiate their salary. .

    What has inspired you to make efforts to support girls in choosing a STEM career? Is it rewarding?

    I think it is important to improve the gender balance at work.  I had my own experience, and I wanted to share it.  It is a big effort, but it’s a win-win situation, because I can say that I got the best coaching from my female colleagues in the association, better than I received from my colleagues at work.  Coaching from my male workmates was also important but only complementary to the coaching from the women in the association. Women dare to show that it is not always something to do with you, but it can just be the circumstances and the prejudgment of people that make a situation as it is.  They build your self-confidence, not only the needed competences.  You just accept more from a woman even to be told even unpleasant things.


    Would you please tell us about your STEM* initiative, its main purpose and concrete actions?

    I was President of this association from 2005 to 2010, and still continue as an active volunteer.  There are approximately 1.000 women in our network who follow what we write and organize, but I would say we have a core group of 10 people specifically promoting engineering to girls, though it varies over time.   We have made many brochures, websites and interviews with people (male and female) to create different profiles of role models in different areas of expertise.

    Could you please provide us with some examples of actions or events that you have organized (or in which you have participated) to promote STEM to girls? What were the targeted ages?

    One of the first big initiatives was to create a brochure with 20 to 30 engineer profiles – not of people in senior positions but people with 1 to 8 years of work experience, to enable young people to connect with them – describing what they are actually doing at work.  This brochure was sent to schools for students in their final two years (around 16 to 18 years old), with the goal of the school circulating it and discussing it with their students, encouraging them to understand what the profession of engineer is about.

    As engineers, we wanted to evaluate the use of what we did versus the effort of doing it, and we found out that some of the brochures never ended up in the students’ hands.  Teachers were not distributing the brochure, they were stocked in the director’s office, or they didn’t want to discuss or review it in class.  So we concluded that it was a lot of effort for the result we were having for the poor results in reaching the girls. This initiative has not been continued.

    In 2007 we tried developing a website, putting pictures and small videos of interviews online. The website was promoted, made known, by teachers, parents and other students, but it was not enough. Here looking at the quantity of people connecting to the site, we saw also that it was not worth the effort.

    You mentioned a 2 years’ study done by the University of Leuven/Sociology with funds from the European Science Foundation (ESF), to analyze female engineers and why girls are not choosing STEM studies, could you tell us about it?

    The website I mentioned before was part of the ESF study (2), but the Department of Sociology (conducting the study) was mainly interested in understanding the drivers: why are girls choosing or not choosing engineering studies?

    From the young people that did not choose engineering, they discovered that they have no clue about what engineers do, and this is true for girls as well as boys. They didn’t know what jobs they could do with an engineering degree.  They knew about other professions like doctors, but with engineers it’s more complex; you could work on sales, project management or research and development.

    The study showed that girls are more likely to make a choice based on intuition or role models than boys are.  As there are more male employees working in STEM, boys know that society finds it a positive career choice, so even without knowing in detail what the jobs are like, they may choose it.  It’s the opposite for girls, so to break this vicious circle I find it very important to bring female role models to their attention.
    A second part of the study was looking at the barriers female professionals encountered during their career. For that second part, we were the studied subjects.  The surprising result that the study discovered is that the barriers to becoming female engineers were not at all different from the standard barriers to all female professionals.

    From your many years of experience in promoting STEM to girls, could you share with us what worked and why?

    Results also indicated that girls had more questions about their future job than boys did. They wanted to know more about it before deciding.  And for girls, human interaction is important; you can motivate a girl much more during a close interaction than you can do via a website.
    So as I already mentioned, putting female role models at the girls’ reach is the most important factor for me, it will allow them to ask their questions, to express their doubts.

    In order to be sustainable and not dependent on our free time we put in place, 5 years ago, an official program with the support of the Flemish government called ‘De wereld aan je voeten’ (3).  It’s an operational project where we put students from their final school years into contact with engineers who can serve as their role models.

    It took us 1,5 years but we managed to get funds from the Flemish government.  We now have a few paid project managers that take care of connecting schools with companies.  They organize visits from the school students to talk to engineers, and make sure there is at least one female engineer in every group.  It is important because for example, girls will only ask the question about balance between work and family to female role models..


    Which initiatives would you choose as the most effective ones? Are they all realistic? What actions would you recommend as the most important?

    As I mentioned already, we are mainly sending pupils to companies to meet STEM role models.  We found a good synergy with the HR directors on this initiative, because they have been struggling for many years to find more engineers. This means there is an economic need, a market need.  And, personally, I think that it would be a relief not to be the only female engineer at work.

    Also we request companies to select female engineers as role models; the company itself is putting their names forward.  The effort required from these women is very little; it’s in their working hours, at their place of work.  For women this does make a difference and companies are supporting this initiative. This is a great side effect of our initiative.

    On the other hand, I would mention that we thought this was a once-only initiative to create a 10 year program, but every 2 years we have had to renew the effort of contacting companies and schoolteachers, mainly because the people we have previously been in contact with have moved from that position.  The program has to be ‘sold’ in the schools again. We have to show the teachers the link with their program and the general educational targets they have to accomplish.  It has to be a win-win situation for them too.

    How do you measure success in the implemented initiatives?  What key performance indicator (KPI’s) do you use?

    We have a few KPIs, one is the ratio of women in companies and our target is to reach 30%. Another measure we are using is the number of hours that a student has been in contact with a role model.  It usually begins with a 2 hour presentation in the company, but they can also follow up through web-quest and other contacts with the role models.

    There are 100.000 students in the 5th and 6th years of the Flemish secondary school education system, but our target population is only 50% of that number. We are only interested in those that do technical studies specializing in math and/or science, because they have the potential to continue in STEM. Now we are reaching 7% of those pupils with our program.  At this stage there are almost half and half girls and boys, but in University only 10% of engineering students are female.

    Reaching only 7% is not enough to see an impact.  We would like to increase our reach – in The Netherlands there is a similar campaign which reaches 80% of their target population every year.


    Are you in touch with any other institution with a view to sharing best practices?

    The biggest project is in The Netherlands, but there are other successful initiatives in Ireland, where the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has a special program to promote science:Discover Science & Engineering (DSE) (4), partnering with STEPS (5)specifically for engineering..

    We thank you for sharing your experience with us.  As we discussed, it would be great to prevent other countries/institutions from making the same mistakes and wasting their time and their budget.  Do you have any more thoughts to share with us?

    I would like to mention also that almost all programs to motivate young people into STEM focus on making them play with science and technology, and from what I know, this motivates boys but for girls it would be better to relate it to a societal goal and show them how technology can solve the current world problems.  I see here a danger of wasting the scarce resources that there are for improving the female presence in STEM.

    As a last question, would you encourage other female professionals to invest their private time on trying to encourage girls into scientific, technological, engineering, and maths based careers?  Is it rewarding?

    Yes, definitely.  For me, being involved in this not only rewards me at a private level, but gives me the opportunity to contact CEOs and HR directors to explain the program to them, so I expand my professional network at the same time and I also gain from this initiative. I have often used the connections in a professional way afterwards.  I would probably not have dared to contact some of them if it was just to put myself forward. Again, it’s a win-win situation.

    Short Biography

    Valerie Tanghe
    studied engineering at the University of Leuven where she specialized in telecommunications and graduated in 1995.  She has been working in different companies and in different positions in order to gain experience in technical as well as business and management matters.  She now works at Belgacom, where she manages projects to make the billing applications more customer oriented.  Valerie has also headed the "Woman and Engineering" think thank for several years, resulting in the launch of large projects ('De Wereld aan je voeten')  to stimulate young people to choose to study science and engineering and particularly focusing on methods that can attract young women.

    Contacts :

    e-mail:   valerie_tanghe@yahoo.com
    gsm:      +32-495-58.52.64

    Disclaimer -
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Belgacom, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

    * STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics
    (1) KVIV Vrouw én Ingenieur  http://www.kviv.be/vrouweningenieur/Default.aspx
    (2) ESF-project "Vrouwelijk Ingenieur” http://www.kviv.be/vrouweningenieur/public/ESF.aspx
    (3) “De wereld aan je voeten!” http://www.dewereldaanjevoeten.be/start.html
    (4) Discover Science & Engineering (DSE) http://www.discover-science.ie/
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