21 March 2009

Women empowerment in a Digital Society

A Digital Society is one which is economically strengthened with digital products, technologies, solutions and capabilities, nurtured by a thick matrix of digital technologies for communication and collaboration.

This society laden with tools and devices to break the barriers of distance and time has given a panacea to women who seek to reach out and utilize their knowledge and skills without compromising their privacy and security.

Information and Communication Technologies have benefitted women in many ways. Vast archives of information available on the Internet are now at a click’s reach and in some countries at very affordable prices. The number of IT professionals and users has been growing over the years, and increasingly women have taken serious interest in IT-enabled services. It is more common to see women working in banks, airline reservation systems, call centers, software development centers, etc.

One of the Millennium Development Goals of the UN is to promote gender equality and empower women. This can be achieved by increasing literacy rate among women especially through primary and secondary education. This target also addresses issues related to empowerment of women in rural areas and increase job opportunities for women who are more commonly found to be trapped in insecure and low-paid positions. Progress in achieving these goals varies largely between different regions and technology can serve as an effective facilitator in achieving this target. Technology can spread the cause of education wider through modern communication means and it can get engagingly interactive through multimedia.

In the academic scenario of Oman, the enrolment of girls is equally balanced in computing and information technology related higher education programs. The acumen of women in logic can be effectively applied to computing profession and more specifically software and system development. There are quite a few pioneering IT teachers / lecturers as well as programmers and operators in Oman. Yet the numbers significantly low. Women are as well suited as men, and on some aspects more suited, to work in the new organizational and IT environment where the emphasis is on building relationships and on seeing different connections between people and technology. In countries like Singapore where the government’s focus is on using IT for national development, over 55% of the workers in the IT sector are women. This is indicative of the potentials of women in technology as a national skilled work force contributing actively economically and socially.

The next few decades will see a large number of women on the Internet, creating content as well as exchanging expertise. Women power is yet to be tapped in this context and several educational institutions and training centers have a key role to play in this direction. The government of Oman in its part has recognized this as a focus group and is putting in plans targeting women for IT training as well as provision of computing equipments with a subsidy.

There are efforts taken through the Omani Woman’s Association, to empower Omani women with hands on skill in IT through formal training. The Women in Technology (WIT) program organised by the Omani Women’s Association - Muscat (OWAM) for MENA region, funded by the US Department of State and managed by IIE through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), aims to promote economic reforms and the empowerment of women in the region. WIT program aims to train 10,000 women by 2010 and induct them into mainstream workforce.

The program delivers IT training through Microsoft's Unlimited Potential (UP) curriculum along with Professional Development workshops to improve women’s standard of living and quality of life by building their knowledge and skills and to eliminate illiteracy in information technology (IT). Microsoft's Unlimited Potential (UP) curriculum is designed to narrow the digital divide and aid global workforce development by providing access and training opportunities for communities underserved by technology including women.

The WIT program project centers of OWAM at Muscat, Musanna, Sohar, Ibra, Ibri, Taqa, Salalah, Rustaq, Saham, Buraimi and Khaburah are equipped with computers, some of which have been donated through the Microsoft Authorised Refurbishment program and about 40,000 RO worth Microsoft software has been donated to the OWAM. Through cooperative efforts, about 1350 Omani women have commendably been certified as IT literates through the WIT program in just 2yrs. The WIT program gives preference to young unemployed graduates and members of low-income families and includes scholarships to deserving students.

Omani women have been pursuing higher levels of IT literacy through formal training programs offered at educational centers and through private study. Many of them own prestigious vendor certifications and are placed in highly specialized technical positions. But there is much more to invest in terms of faith, time and resources to bring the true potential of women in the field of technology. Women in general are creative and with the imaginative mind can engage successfully in the field of web design, graphics and multimedia as well as education technology. Very limited opportunities are currently available in such exclusive studies or vocational training and they are also unaffordable for many.

As the saying goes, ‘when we educate a girl, we educate her whole family' is a clue to the realization of the Digital Society of Oman.

The Art & Science of Emails - Continued

Most corporate communications have shifted to the electronic highway and emails are fast replacing the traditional snail mails and faxes. Digital Oman explains the art of science of email communications in an effort to maximise efficiency without having unforeseen encounters with those at the receiving end.

Last week we touched upon the importance of simplicity of email addresses as well as the content of the emails. The etiquette of when to ‘Cc’ (Courtesy Copy), ‘Bcc’ (Blind Copy) and when not to was also discussed briefly. This week lets talk about de-cluttering and re-structuring content.

Cut the clutter

Email can never be heard and so avoid using pun / abbreviations that you expect your receiver to understand readily. Even if there is no instant solution, it is a courtesy to acknowledge the email and agree on a reasonable time to respond. Hold on to your emotions and stressful life style but avoid emotionally charged statements and stick to the facts. Do not add a smily J as punctuation if you don’t mean fun. Instead of piling up emails, it is interesting to respond in a timely manner and gain positive reputation.

Fonts and size

Most email clients have a default font size and style which can be customised. Use it well and set your signature as a template with appropriate contact details to avoid typing it each time. Again use font colours, bold and italics with discretion only if absolutely necessary. Adding a background banners loads the size of the email and so this can be avoided. Instead a small image say the corporate logo, can be added to the signature template.

Effective responses

Compose your response only after re-reading the entire thread in your incoming email and sometimes related responses from others as well. This way you can seal several issues concerned with a single response. Sort the inbox by title when addressing a message with a lot of responses. It is also possible to slot out email sorting time so that it doesn’t interrupt normal work.

Detach attachment

As a god practice save your attachment in the hard disk and delete it from the email and now you have a very thin email sitting in your inbox. This way you can store your emails and still keep a lean mail box. While forwarding emails, think twice about keeping the original attachment or altering it. The same applies for forwarded mail subject lines. Certainly no one likes to see FW: FW: FW:………… trails.

Security alert

Never record any personal or login information in your emails as they are transmitted without encryption and may land up in the wrong hands. Under no circumstances, open any unexpected attachment from unknown sender. Curb cyber world traffic by not forwarding any chain mails or spam emails. The same applies to hoax emails, which might cause misunderstanding or panic.

Never click on a link in a spam or hoax email or respond from your email address. This way, you are inadvertently signing into the spam mail generator’s mailing list. Just delete the spam emails and don’t even bother to ‘Unsubscribe’. For those spam emails not filtered by your server, add the email address to ‘block sender’ list.

Greeting vs. marketing

Emails sent as greetings on special occasions or as congratulatory notes must never carry any marketing message in it. The prudent customer is aware of the business proposition mixing up in the message and doesn’t take it as a well-intended greet. An employee on leaving a company sends a general email from a new email address wishing all business contacts good luck and leaving a very nice thanks note along with the key message the he/she has moved on to a new job. This is indeed a good idea to keep the contact lists alive. Use of words ‘thanks’, ‘please’, ‘enjoy’, ‘appreciate’ are known to have that magical touch of willing support. Again review your emails whether they deserve the ‘High Priority’ or ‘Low Priority’ flags being set along with appropriately.


Often business meetings tend to be lengthy testing people’s attention spans. In such cases all points agreed for action in the meeting can be effectively summarised with expected date of action in a simple follow-up email to all attendees. This could also be used for the next meeting call as a check list of progress.

Hidden cues

To address a person correctly, see how they sign their email and use the same name; do not create your own abbreviations or friendly version to avoid annoying the receiver. Email etiquette applies not only to your clients but your colleagues as well. Even if you boiling with rage, tone down and send a ‘gentle reminder’ calling for immediate action.


Most often we are left clueless whether our email has reached its destination. Many a times these emails may sit in the inbox or the Spam filter without being read by the receiver while we awaits responses. To save us from these hazels there are a few automated setting like the ‘Delivery receipt’ and ‘read receipt’.

For example when you compose your email in the Microsoft Outlook, click on Message Option and activate these settings requesting a confirmation for delivery/read. So once the activity is completed, a confirmation message is displayed automatically in your email client window. Interestingly the replies to this particular email message can also be redirected to another alternative email address.

Emailing culture is here to stay and grow and being literate in this aspect helps to maintain good relationships utilising the swiftness of email communications. If readers have any pleasant or even unpleasant email experiences, you are welcome to share them with me. Etiquette is an ever evolving practice and the art of refining this culture can be mastered over time with a little bit of effort.