[Column] Joanne Mwangi – Yelbert: Entice more women in tech to bridge skills gap and bolster growth
Incredible improvements in tech are rapidly reshaping our world and evolving working practices and environments. During, and since, the Covid-19 pandemic, technology has positively infused and revolutionized our daily lives at an amazing rate. For businesses, streamlining customer interactions, facilitating new experiences, and enhancing processes.
Digital technologies hold immense potential to improve people’s economic and social outcomes, yet challenges remain regarding women’s access to and use of these technologies. This partly stems from the social cultural bias against tech by women as well as the common nuance derived from women staying out if the limelight.
My daughter, for example, is an outstandingly brilliant young woman Cyber Security Expert who has had extensive training and experience in the some of the world’s top tier tech firms. She has had first hand opportunity representing Africa as the only black female in one of Tel Aviv’s tech hubs, where the best resources for the world are birthed, and yet, she hardly toots her horn!
Undeniably, it is a hugely exciting time to work within the tech industry. Great strides are being made to encourage diverse perspectives in the workplace. Yet in today’s much more progressive and democratized corporate landscape, we’re still not giving women enough opportunities, or the space needed to truly lead within the sector. The sooner women in tech become greatly visible as role models, the faster we can level the landscape.
It’s anticipated that by 2030, less than 25% of ICT specialists will be female. That’s only a small rise from the 19% that’s seen in positions globally today and in many countries, the share is falling. To bridge the digital skills gap and create a more diverse workforce, we must unite to encourage more girls and young women to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. In Kenya today, only one in three STEM graduates are female. Female Engineers are still viewed as an oddity, and rarely do they flaunt their well earned titles outside of the work front.
The obvious starting point is showcasing tech careers to girls and young women. Programs aimed at inspiring the next generation of tech leaders, such as Digi Schools, can help schools and educators bring tech role models to their classrooms. Through app-building competitions, girls learn practical digital and IT skills, experience working as a team, and gain self-confidence by presenting ideas to wider audiences, all while being exposed to STEM careers. It’s a small but important step towards inspiring young females to become tomorrow’s tech leaders.
Promoting full and equal access to, and participation in, science, technology and innovation for women and girls of all ages should remain top in our conversations. We should seek to raise more awareness in promoting gender equality in tech and innovations professions and encourage the elimination of barriers faced by women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We should also aim to connect the international community to women and girls in science, strengthening ties between science, policy and societies.
We also need to focus on the role of women and girls and scientific innovation needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Tackling some of the greatest challenges of the Agenda for Sustainable Development will rely on harnessing all talent and getting more women working in STEM. Diversity in research expands the pool of talented researchers, bringing in fresh perspectives, talent and creativity.
It’s no doubt digital transformation provides new avenues for the economic empowerment of women and can contribute to greater gender equality. The Internet, digital platforms, mobile phones and digital financial services offer “leapfrog” opportunities for all and can help bridge the divide by giving women the possibility to earn additional income, increase their employment opportunities, and access knowledge and general information. We need to seize this opportunity to foster greater gender equality in the labour market, boost economic growth and build a more inclusive, digital world. The road ahead is uphill, today worldwide some 327 million fewer women than men have a smartphone and can access the mobile Internet. Women are under represented in ICT jobs, top management and academic careers, men are four times more likely than women to be ICT specialists.
According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), there will be more than two million technology jobs that cannot be filled because of a lack of digital specialists by 2029 and half of all current jobs will have disappeared by 2050. This means those who are ICT or STEM literate will be better placed to find decent and well paying employment. However, women are held back from joining the digital revolution at the same pace as men. Globally, women represent only 3% of ICT graduates.
Digital gender divide has been fueled by digital illiteracy, which often translates in lack of comfort in using technology and accessing the Internet. Such “technophobia” is often a result of concurrent factors including education, employment status and income level.
Digital technologies bring transformative forces to global trade and commerce, and while they may simultaneously affect men and women, their impacts on women can be different due to the gender specific needs and preferences and unique barriers women face as workers, traders and consumers. Leveraging digital technology to empower women’s businesses can help drive trade, create jobs and foster economic growth.
We cannot discuss women’s rights and economic well-being without discussion access to, and competence in tech by women and girls. If anything in our lifetime will be the effective catalyst and equalizer, tech is it.