EQUALS in Tech Awards 2022 took place in Geneva. Out of 155 projects, we are the winner in the Skills category!
"You should nominate Czechitas for the EQUALS in Tech Awards, Olga. I warn you, though, that Czechitas has unsuccessfully tried two times before. This award requires a solid nomination, and clear understanding of the Award’s purpose. " - said my mentor and colleague Ryan Turner at the beginning of 2022.
HOW IT ALL STARTED?
Being relatively new in my current role as Director of Development, and ambitious to be the first to break the cycle of NO, the challenge to try once again became too tempting to ignore. Our team decided to review the past applications and assess where we stood as an organisation— on our own terms with respect to our impact and scaling, as well as how we present ourselves relative to other organizations from around the world.
Admittedly, I was not convinced we could win. I believe 100% in our mission, our work, and the stories reflecting our community.
From increased numbers of female IT talents, to individuals inspired to grow personally and professionally through digital skills training, I see lives transformed daily. I experience the social and economic change catalyzed through our collective efforts in tangible and countless ways - reskilled students, brand new careers, increasing numbers of female talent in IT, and people pursuing digital skills training with more passion.
But the thought of competing with 155 other fabulous projects from around the globe remained daunting. Add to this the limited awareness of our work and context beyond our Czech borders and three previous rejections still lingering in mind. I decided to proceed with clear-eyed optimism, balanced with hopeful caution.
WHAT ARE THE EQUALS in Tech AWARDS:
International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a specialised UN organisation founded in 1865 to facilitate international connectivity in communications networks. ITU allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develops the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strives to improve access to ICTs in underserved communities worldwide. It has 193 members and the Czech Republic is one of them.
ITU is committed to connecting all the world's people – wherever they live and whatever their means. It works to protect and support everyone's right to communicate.
In 2022, ITU elected Doreen Bogdan-Martin to the Secretary-General post, the first woman to do so in the organization’s 157-year history. She firmly believes in our collective ability to engineer better futures for girls and women in STEM.
In 2016, Ms. Bogdan-Martin helped establish The EQUALS Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age. The initiative is “a committed group of corporate leaders, governments, businesses, not-for-profit organiations, academic institutions, NGOs and community groups worldwide dedicated to promoting gender balance in the technology sector by championing equality of access, skills development and career opportunities for women and men alike”.
A core component of the EQUALS partnership is an awards program which honors projects around the globe in four categories: Access, Skills, Leadership and Research.
CZECHITAS TAKES A CHANCE (AGAIN)
From mid-winter to early spring 2022, our development team and board undertakes a tremendous effort. We push ourselves to think deeper about the unique context of the Czech Republic in which we operate, and more expansively in how best to communicate our impact regarding women in IT.
The Czech Republic sits at the tail end of all EU member states regarding women's representation in IT. Women in our region have historically been discouraged from pursuing STEM studies and careers by teachers, parents, and communities. But they need to take advantage of meaningful careers they would love and economic opportunities from which they could benefit. IT/ICT offers both.
Research shows that increased diversity in STEM delivers benefits to employers and society. Yet women make up only 10% of IT workers in this part of the world. Sadly, women and girls are not easily convinced of their potential or confident en route to their success.
Breaking down stereotypes, boosting confidence in abilities to reskill into IT, and showing that IT is neither boring nor designed for one gender— we emphasize each of these in our desire to showcase Czechitas' efforts to close the gender digital divide.
As May 2022 arrives, we are ready to submit our nomination to the EQUALS in Tech committee. Fast forward to early September 2022. I received an excited “Oli yay!” email from Czechitas co-founder and board member Bara Buhnova: "Oli, we are in the finals!".
Dear EQUALS in Tech Award nominee,
It is our great pleasure to inform you are a finalist for the 2022 EQUALS in Tech Awards Skills Category! Please accept our heartfelt congratulations on being a finalist; this prestigious group was drawn from a strong field of more than 155 compelling nominations from countries across the globe and various stakeholders working towards gender equality and representation in technology. We congratulate you on your outstanding achievement, inspirational work and powerful nomination, of which you can be particularly proud.
My heart starts racing. I am proud and beyond excited that Czechitas has reached the semifinals. The winners will be announced in early December at ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. I immediately hit Google to search for flights, the weather, and suggestions for what to wear. But I also begin to wonder what to say should we win…
THE RESULT ARE IN
On 8th December 2022, I flew to Geneva with Ondrej Čejka, Czechitas executive director, to attend the EQUALS in Tech ceremony. In advance of our departure, we were notified that Czechitas was the winner for the Skills Category. The hardest part of the preparation and journey was keeping the good news a secret until it was officially announced.
The ceremony itself was a central part of the global Partner2Connect conference convened during the week by ITU and GSMA. Leaders from every country came together and pledged to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally.
The awards ceremony was presided over by ITU Secretary-General Bogdan-Martin, whose opening remarks set the tone for a welcoming and powerful ceremony for all attendees.
Czechitas was introduced by Mats Grandyd, a GSMA general director and a co-founding partner of the EQUALS partnership. When I walked onto the stage, my voice trembled, and I had to laugh because my smart watch signaled increased heart activity (but I loved the adrenalin). I then said the words I had waited so long to say:
"No matter what the digital divide is globally, regarding access to technology, the gender digital gap remains with respect to social, cultural, and economic barriers to opportunities for women in IT - from education to jobs. The power of Czechitas is about providing training and learning opportunities for women and girls. It is about bridging the gap by connecting sectors and industries to invest in women's digital skills. Most of all, it is about the community we build to ensure social inclusion and economic opportunity for all. This award is for our team, partners, and extended community of women and men who push for gender equality in IT daily. To them, I say thank you. And thank you, Equals in Tech, for this incredible honour."
Two seconds after receiving the award and thanking Mr. Grandyd for his kind introduction, I felt so at ease and delighted with the overall experience. I was also fortunate to meet with the winners from all other categories, such as App Morada from Mexico, Women Technopreneurs from Sri Lanka, Tech-driven Entrepreneur from Zimbabwe and Education Digital Equity Initiative from Nigeria.
An award in hand ... group photos…many handshakes… more photos… social media updates ( the EQUALS team had already moved swiftly to mention the winners across all major platforms)... more congratulations, networking, brief interviews… all capped with a congratulatory glass of wine to celebrate. My head is now spinning, and it is a great spin.
Email our team, send photos and thank yous, and head back to the hotel to take some time for this whole experience to sink in fully.
This experience is not only about Czechitas being a solid organisation with an important message and a solution to vital social challenges.. We have brought home an award during the Czech presidency to the council of the EU, when digital transformations, digital skills and training of the broader and often underrepresented population should continue to be of the utmost priority.
We also have also raised the profile of women in IT, in a part of the world that is frequently taken for granted, at a time when our work extends to people and communities of all backgrounds searching for ways to grow in their professional and personal selves. This award means so much to me and my colleagues, in recognition of those we have the honor to serve each and every day.