International Girls in ICT Day will be celebrated on 28 April. With the celebrations approaching, 3 prominent women in tech in Africa have lent their voices to the debate around gender inequality in the tech industry, Nosa Iyamu writes.

While there has been headway toward greater workplace diversity in recent years, there is still much more work to be done. There is undeniably a gender divide in all businesses, and one of these historically male-dominated industries is technology.

In fact, according to Deloitte Insight, large global technology firms are predicted on average to nearly reach 33% overall female representation in their workforces in 2022. This is slightly higher than 2 percentage points from 2019. Additionally in Nigeria, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, women make up on average just 22% of the total number of engineering and technology university graduates each year.

While the IT industry often talks about inclusion and diversity, much more work remains to be done. And, more significantly, talk must rapidly become action. Both education and inspiration are required to close the gender divide in technology. 

We must provide young Nigerian females with the required skills to seek equal opportunities in the future. However, where should we begin?  We spoke with industry leaders ahead of International Girls in ICT Day to hear their opinions.

Change stereotypes

With conversations on ‘jobs of the future’ happening everywhere, why does it feel like we are not making any progress that is quite definitive for everyone, questions Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, Global Head at Zoho for Startups. “Why does it look like most of the vision-and-mission statements only put ‘gender equality’ on a treadmill and also openly wonder why there are not enough girls in STE(A)M?”

Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, Global Head at Zoho for Startups

“Knowing the importance of equal gender representation in tech is one thing, and doing what it takes to support, to become an ally, is an entirely different thing,” adds Krishnamoorthy. “To support gender equality in tech, the key players who have the power to propel this movement and those that can translate mere words into actions, have to have infinite compassion, and courage (born out of empathy and kindness) to constantly work on changing the stereotypes.”

With the assumption that the people in the driver’s seat of future innovation and policymaking already recognise the critical nature of gender equality in technology, Krishnamoorthy makes three recommendations for amplifying their support:

1. Support equality from early on—early education on diversity and inclusion.

2. Don’t just stop with being an ally. Create more allies whose words match perfectly with their actions.

3. Be present, bring your own chair to the table, and be a lighthouse of a mentor.

4. Invest time and money on training to overcome conscious and unconscious bias; to create more resonant leaders; to create a community of mentors and givers who passionately volunteer and train young girls; to find and bring together more people who are truly intentional and are willing to pass the baton of knowledge on.

5. Create and make available a marketplace of tech tools for learning and development like robotics kits, sandbox developer platforms, etc., that help in proving that technology can be a leveler.

6. Empower young girls by helping them enhance their innate emotional quotient (EQ), keeping in mind intersectionality.

“On this International Girls in ICT Day, as we act with more focus and passion, and as we reach for the stars, let’s also promise to the posterity that the magnificent future will be built on a strong foundation of equality and inclusivity.”

Society must be aware of gender biases children grow up with 

“When it comes to getting more women into tech or other spaces where we are underrepresented, language and representation matter,” says Aisha Pandor, CEO of home services company SweepSouth. 

Aisha Pandor, CEO of SweepSouth. 

“We often hear that when females are assertive they’re seen as aggressive, but when males are assertive, they’re confident. That kind of language and those kinds of stereotypes start being entrenched when kids are young and impressionable. For example, as early as at primary school, when girls are studying maths and science, it’s well reported that many don’t feel confident enough in a class with other young boys, to put up their hands to answer questions.”

Pandor adds that as a society we need to be aware of any gender biases our children grow up with, and consciously untrain them, otherwise they occur at such a formative stage of development that they become entrenched and difficult to undo. “This awareness work needs to be done with both girls and boys, without leaving either by the wayside. We also need to highlight more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in everyday life. If girls and women start seeing more women in spaces they wish to be part of, they’ll see their ambitions as relatable and achievable, and feel more encouraged to chase their dreams in this regard.”

Educate, mentor and guide 

Despite our progress, there is still much more work to be done; as strange as it may sound, the gender divide in our technology business begins even before girls enter the workforce. “As is the case with many other professions, “technology” still carries many outdated stereotypes, and research indicates that girls are significantly less likely to study technology to consider a career in the sector,” says Dori-Jo Bonner, Strategist at Striata Africa. 

Dori-Jo Bonner, Strategist at Striata Africa. Photography for Striata in Feb 2016 by Jeremy Glyn.

Bonner believes this should not be the case, the youth of today has emerged in tech much more than ever before,  from entertainment to education, the next generation is introduced at a young age to technology and all it has to offer. 

“What young girls do not learn about are the job prospects available in the technology industry and the important need for women to be acknowledged and make a difference in this space. It is crucial that we educate, mentor, and guide young girls about these options because only through this type of mentoring and guidance can we begin to open doors to so many people whose abilities and talents are so sorely needed right now,” adds Bonner. 

Break down barriers

Yes, the gender gap is everywhere. And arguably progress has most definitely been made, but there is still a long road to go.  In particular, the tech industry is exploding, and the number of jobs available is growing. We need to break down barriers by providing mentors and role models who are women in technology to young girls.

Source: The importance of supporting gender equality in the tech industry

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