Recently, Microsoft unveiled two new categories in the Imagine Cup, which focus on how technology can directly affect women’s issues in the world. The company’s annual student technology competition allows youth worldwide to use Microsoft technologies to create products that address and combat social issues.
The competition also aims to help improve participants’ developer skills, enhance their prototypes and learn how to launch a business. The worldwide final will take place from the 8th – 11th July in St. Petersburg, where the first place winner will receive a whopping $50,000.
This year, Microsoft added two new categories to its competition; the Women’s Empowerment Award and the Women’s Athletics Challenge. By adding these, the company not only wants to draw more attention to women’s issues, but also wants to redress the gender imbalance in participants. Last year, only 20 percent of all participants were female.
The first competition Microsoft added this year is the Women’s Empowerment Award, which is established in partnership with UN Women; a UN organisation dedicated to the acceleration of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the world. The award will be given to two student teams of any gender, who create projects that will bring about positive change for women and tackle key issues such as: gender-based violence; economic inequality; and access to technology. The winner will receive $12,000.
The second female-focused competition is the Women’s Athletics App Challenge, which is established in partnership with the Seattle Storm women’s basketball team. This competition aims to inspire female developers, innovators and entrepreneurs to create the best sports, fitness or health related app. The winners will have the opportunity to attend a private meeting with one of the Seattle Storm basketball players and watch a game on the Storm’s home court in Seattle. The winning team will also receive a $1,000 prize per team member.
There is certainly a wealth of unique ideas and new perspectives that women can bring to the table in the IT world. However, even in this age of technology, the tech-world is still very male-dominated. Today, women hold only 27 percent of all IT jobs, making us wonder why women aren’t working in IT?
The desire of women to enter the field is often affected by the misconception that IT jobs are only about math and programming; however, the IT world is more differentiated than that. There are, for example, quite a few women who successfully fulfil the ever-growing number of web designer jobs available. In fact, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup shows that there is more to IT than programming and that unique ideas are equally important to create a social impact. This competition will certainly spark women’s interest in IT and can even serve as a launch-pad for their future careers.