DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thanks so much for everything this morning. It’s really a pleasure to be here today with such a wonderful, accomplished group of students and group of women.
We are here to celebrate. Today the United States Department of State is awarding Tongan Women in Information and Communications Technology — TWICT — a grant to support their critical work, encouraging young women to pursue careers in science. When I taught at the Kennedy School, I told every one of my liberal arts students to go and find a scientist because that is the future.
Before I turn this over to Selu Kauvaka and my colleagues for the formal signing ceremony, let me say a couple of things about the importance the United States and Tonga place on empowering women in science, technology, engineering and math — what we call STEM or sometimes STEAM for short.
This grant means the U.S. government will partner with TWICT — a group of incredible professional women engineers, scientists, and computer programmers — all the people that I learn from every single day because I know none of this — as they train and encourage young Tongan women to pursue careers in sciences. Those young women, regardless of field or background, will gain new opportunities to share their experiences and knowledge with each other and with their local communities. This work is really important not just for Tongan women, but for you guys too.
We have decades of evidence showing that when women and girls participate fully and equally in the sciences, in government, in the arts, in every sphere of public life, countries are more secure, more peaceful and more prosperous. When women are fully able to participate in the economy, we see stronger and more inclusive growth — the kind that lifts up families and communities from all backgrounds.
A typical STEM worker earns on average 70 percent more — more, guys — than employees in other fields. Yet globally women only make up 28 percent of the workforce in STEM fields. So ladies, we’re losing all that money. [Laughter]. You’ve got to go into STEM.
I understand the percentage is even lower in Tonga and the gender pay gap is higher than the global average. So if we want to promote economic growth that benefits people and communities alike, helping women to pursue STEM careers is one of the best ways to do it.
The work the professional women of TWICT are doing has very personal meaning to me. As I noted, I’m the first woman to serve as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. It took until 2021 for that to happen. That’s ridiculous. I was also the first woman to serve as the Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the State Department. That took until 2011. I can’t even count the number of times in my career I have been the only woman in the room.
But every step of the way I’ve benefited from having women mentors and colleagues who I could turn to for anything — to strategize, to think through a big decision, or just to talk about a tough day. And one of the benefits of having this silver hair I have is that I’m not shy about speaking up on those occasions, which are rarer now but sometimes still happen, when I’m in a meeting where there are no women on the other side of the table. So I say something about it.
I understand how important it is to build a strong professional support network and help other women succeed, especially when you’re in the minority in your field. This is exactly what TWICT is doing. TWICT’s leaders are trailblazers. All of these women here are trailblazers in their own right and now they’re taking time to pay it forward, as I said, to our analyst back there, and support other women who may not otherwise have the same opportunities. They aren’t just advancing their own careers, they are also raising a generation of women leaders in the sciences behind them. And that is so admirable.
Because let’s face it, it’s often really hard to be the first, or one of the first, to do what you’re doing. If you can’t look around and see people who look like you in similar positions it can be hard to imagine how you can get there yourself. That is true if you are Tongan and you’re trying to get somewhere and no one looks like you, then you have to be the first.
But when those who have made it spend time and energy helping those who are striving, it can make all the difference. And when more and more people do the same, you start to see economies and societies become more inclusive, more prosperous, and more stable.
So thank you all for being here today. And congratulations again to the women of TWICT.
MODERATOR: Thank you Deputy Secretary Sherman. I would now like to invite Selu Kauvaka, founder of Tongan Women in ICT to make some remarks.
SELU KAUVAKA, Founder, Tongan Women in ICT: Thank you very much. I’ll keep it short. Mostly I’d like to acknowledge Madam Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, [inaudible], girls and boys, ladies and gentlemen.
Tongan Women in ICT, there’s a few of us here today, we’re overjoyed today that Tonga and USA are celebrating 50 years of strong relations for recognizing young people. For recognizing us females in the ICT fields [inaudible].
It is very important for us to know how to important each and every one of us, because we have time, Deputy Secretary of State has time for us today.
Tongan Women in ICT was founded to empower young girls, young people in Tonga, the foundation is providing assistance [inaudible] STEM education — engineers, technology, for the Pacific region. This is the very first time that we’ll be receiving funds from the United States to help us in our journey going forward, to provide and develop career paths and training, workshops, mentorship, and many more.
Lastly, I would like to say that maybe one day young people here in this room will be sitting behind a desk at Silicon Valley but here in Tonga. A Silicon Valley here in Tonga.
And I want to thank the United States for trusting us to carry this dream in the people of Tonga, and as she had said, we have the power to make a difference. Malo ‘aupito.