Microsoft – GirlSpark
Results & Impacts
- Over 100 young women accepted to the programme during the first two years
- Hundreds of applicants attracted each year, from undergraduates to PhD students
- Highly positive feedback from local leaders and participants on social media
- Positive brand recognition through extensive media coverage
The ICT industry faces a growing talent shortage, with demand for services rising much faster than the number of qualified candidates. To make matters worse, few young women consider careers in this male-dominated sector. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 53% of Hong Kong companies have fewer than 10% women in their IT departments, and only 12% have a female head of IT. At Microsoft, 30% of employees are women. The company sought to improve on this by actively engaging young women with enjoyable and inspiring experiences to build their knowledge of – and interest in – careers in ICT.
GirlSpark is a three-day camp taking place in January each year for up to 60 female undergraduates and postgraduates from a range of universities, disciplines and backgrounds. The camp features presentations on industry trends and opportunities, and ‘fire chat’ Q&A sessions with community and industry leaders. Central to the programme is a hands-on project where participants work in groups to develop the business case for real-life Microsoft products and solutions. On the final day, the groups present their business case to a judging panel with representatives of Microsoft and Ivey Business School, as well as a local ICT entrepreneur.
Following the camp, participants are offered complementary tickets to ICT events to continue learning about the industry. They are invited to participate or assist with the activities of professional bodies and NGOs, and given opportunities to take part in global competitions such as the Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge. Crucially, they are also provided with information about mentorship, internship, scholarship and employment opportunities, at Microsoft and elsewhere.
GirlSpark is developed and delivered in close collaboration with The Women’s Foundation and Ivey Business School. The Women’s Foundation co-plans the agenda, co-ordinates promotions on-campus, interviews applicants, engages speakers and arranges media interviews. Ivey Business School drafts materials for the business case exercise and provides teaching support for it, as well as participating on the judging panel. Microsoft maintains a key role by providing funding, delivering campus talks, screening applicants and co-ordinating the participation of its own staff and industry leaders.
The needs of young participants are prioritised when developing the programme. For example, the business case exercise relates to real products and business scenarios so that students gain insights into how the industry works and what it involves on a day-to-day basis. Understanding that millennials are more likely to be motivated by social purpose, Microsoft and its partners include a sharing session on ‘Technology for Social Good’ within the programme.
Working with the right external partners is important: the partners’ interests are closely aligned, making long-term commitment easier. Regular communication, debriefings and reviews help to build trust, identify potential difficulties early on, and allows the partners to be flexible and evolve the programme as they learn more about what works.
Internally, commitment was secured by aligning the programme with Microsoft’s strategic business priorities and core competencies. As well as building the future talent pipeline, it responds to the need of stakeholders and mobilises the company’s skills and resources for positive impact in society.
With such high demand for the programme, and limited spaces available, the organisers need a clear and transparent process with fair selection criteria. Several rounds of screening and interviews are held in order to select the most suitable candidates. Students from diverse backgrounds are chosen so they can learn from and build upon each other’s strengths and abilities. To further encourage diversity of thought, students are sought who have a passion for learning and are willing to challenge the norm.
Microsoft also recognises that while the programme reaches a limited number of participants, the challenge it seeks to address is system-wide. Therefore, the company seeks to further build its relationship with the project partners and other stakeholders. Microsoft sits on TWF’s Women in Technology Committee to build synergy with other TWF initiatives to attract and support women into the ICT industry. Likewise, it participates in the Hong Kong Computer Society’s FACE Club, to help create greater awareness and better support for women in ICT.