“To create a more diverse and inclusive tech world, we need to inspire and empower the next generation of female role models to pursue and develop their career in technology and become innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s a process and it’s not always straightforward. It takes time, action and support. Join us on a mission! Together we can make a difference” – Ann Radulovski (Founder/CEO WomenTech Network)
A lot has occurred dating back to the 1920’s, when women first rushed into the streets to air their voices as against the marginalisation by men in various spheres of life.
Women can now vote, own properties in their name, institute divorce proceedings against their spouse, speak in their person or identity, devoid of status, and be referred by same whenever such need arises amongst other notable developments.
Now over 100 years and counting, we however, still observe that the trajectory continue tilting to a patriarchal-driven society.
Women continue to thrive in low earning power than their male counterpart, while gender discrimination and sexual harassment remains prevalent in the job sector.
Traces of domestic violence seem unending and seemingly to many, the only reason for the sustenance of women from extinction is the fact that women carry children.
If we consider things to be so challenging for women in the job sector, then we are yet to be more astonished at what happens in the tech industry.
According to the NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology), women only make up 25 percent of the tech workforce. That number has been on a steady decline since 1984 when the number was about 37 percent.
This suffices to mean that women were in tech in the past more than they are now. One issue that is seemingly getting headlines is that women keep leaving the tech industry due to discrimination.
Thus, the big question – what is the propelling factor to the low turnout of women in the tech industry?
Relatively, this participatory deterioration sterns from the lack of sustainable mentorship and guidance from an early age, cultural and societal gender biases, the prevalence of psychological undermining of the female folks, with regards to their capability in startups and different tech industries, the sexual harassment and gender discrimination at work, and the near absence of female role models in the tech industry.
And unfortunately, a lot of these things feed into each other, creating a vicious cycle for continuity of the trajectory.
- Relevance of Women Involvement in Digital Technology
We cannot feign ignorance of the fact that digital technologies are a powerful driver of gender equality, giving women and girls new information, opportunities, and resources in a struggling society of gender inequality.
As already noted, one key area where gender equality progress has been on the decline is the technology sector, and there is really no argument that including women in technology will lead to more creative solutions with a greater potential for innovation which will meet women’s needs and thus promote gender equality.
Careers in technology have proven to be a lucrative venture and would certainly bridge the gap of dependency of the female folks on the male gender.
It would by extension, help to increase job opportunities in this sector as well as in general, which will undoubtedly create room for economic stability, mobility and career advancement for women, seeing that they attain the higher numeric figures in the society.
Research has proven that women have the ability of generating helpful ideas even under pressure and achieving great results. So tech companies being a complex breed of venture can tap into this broader range of ideas and insights by including more women in technology.
Generally, tackling gender inequality is complex, difficult and slow, but digital technology can help accelerate progress.
Unfortunately, women face numerous obstacles when it comes to entering and advancing in the technology field, including social and cultural biases, and the lack of access to education and training opportunities.
As a result, women feel unable to thrive and don’t even consider choosing a career in tech. Even if they have one, the lack of career growth opportunities visible to them within and outside the tech industry as orchestrated by their male counterparts, reduce their chances of success or eventual continuity.
Since male employees outnumber females in so many tech companies, women feel underrepresented and are most times, afraid to voice their opinions especially where the male folks are holding higher positions therein and this creates a hostile work environment that often results in harassment and assault.
“Impostor Syndrome” seems to be another by-product of gender bias in the workplace and most female employees in tech feel they have to work harder to prove themselves, resulting in frequent burnouts.
Moreso, gender inequality has continually skyrocketed the pay disparity in tech employments and the number is like 1 out of 4 as regards female entrepreneurs in the tech industry.
Some good news is that the percentage of women holding leadership positions in tech is on the increase as we shall see below down memory lane.
- Progress so Far
Despite the challenges, down memory lane and even in contemporary ages, women have continued to play significant roles in the field of technology, breaking through barriers and overcoming obstacles along the way.
Taking a cursory look of some of the iconic women and their input in the tech industry, we recognise the immense contribution of:
- Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, to Hedy Lamarr, whose invention is still used in wireless communication;
- We also recognise Grace Hopper, who developed the first compiler for a computer programming language;
- Radia Perlman, who invented the algorithm that is now used in networking protocols;
- Kimberly Bryant, who founded Black Girls Code, an organization dedicated to increasing the participation of girls of colour in the technology industry;
- Margaret Hamilton, is credited with coming up with the term “software engineering.” She led a team that developed the in-flight software for the Apollo missions and Skylab in 1965;
- Marissa Mayer was hired as the first female engineer at Google. She became part of the 3-person team who created AdWords (now GoogleAds), Google’s primary revenue generator in 2005;
- Ruchi Sanghvi became the first female engineer at Facebook. She was instrumental in creating the platform’s News Feed, rolled out in 2006;
- Ginni Rometty became the first woman to head IBM, serving as president, chairperson, and CEO in 2018;
- Gladys West was recently inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame for her work in developing GPS technology;
- Parul Bharadwaj, a seasoned technology professional based in Seattle who has worked effectively with tech giants such as Amazon and DoorDash Inc;
- Susan Diane Wojcicki, CEO of Youtube with over 20yrs experience in the Tech industry;
- Deirdre O,Brien is the senior Vice President of Retail at Apple, appearing on the Fast Company Queer 50 List in 2021;
- And our very own Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who is the current DG of the world Trade Organisation; amongst others.
These women by their innovations and sense of leadership, have made a lasting impact on our world today, and this is only a handful of the incredible minds that shaped technology. One can imagine what the future holds for today’s women in tech when there is attention and improvement.
- Recommendation for Improvement
(1) Tech companies need to provide equal pay to all their employees who hold the same position, whether male or female. They also have a responsibility to educate their employees through training and programs on gender discrimination and promote a safe and comfortable work culture for everyone.
In addition, they need to create strict discrimination and harassment policies and ensure they are enforced. When unsure of how to remove gender biases in the course of employment, they can engage the services of a recruiting firm, as experts in the field.
Moreover, leading and managing staff within such a company should endeavour to give deserving female staff, opportunities for promotions in mid-level and senior levels.
(2) Need for scholarships for aspiring women in the tech industry cannot be over emphasised. The government of world and nations must fill this gap.
The bright side of being underrepresented in any sector of the economy is that where the pursuit of representation does not cost monetary expenses and yet comes with results and rewards owing to personal effort and dedication, there will undoubtedly be high participation in it.
A practical example of one of these tech related scholarship scheme is the Coding Bootcamp Scholarships for Women, Computer Science & STEM Scholarships for Women.
(3) It is also recommended that the many non-profit organisations for women should not only be a medium through which the voice of the female gender is heard, but should strive in spearheading this looming vicissitude regarding the turnaround of the narrative through financial aid, scholarship and awareness schemes, to members and the public at large and should collectively seek the support of the government when necessary.
(4) We cannot stress enough the need for a safe, affordable, and inclusive internet, one that doesn’t fuel harmful gender stereotypes, silence women’s voices, and imperil women’s safety and rights.
Equally, there is need for digital tools to boost women’s participation and leadership in the digital space.
It is not enough for women and girls to simply have access to technology and digital skills, they must also become active agents of change to create a safer and equitable digital future for all.
(5) A lot still needs to be done to counter cyber-violence and to design safe online spaces.
Stronger regulations and laws are needed, as much as investing in law enforcement and justice officers, specialized in addressing online violence with a human-rights and gender approach.
We must also continue to work together to tackle discriminatory and harmful social norms and stereotypes. Tech companies need to further commit to addressing gendered violence and keeping their platforms safe for everyone.
We must in this bid, ensure that digital technologies are used to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality.
The general responsibility falls on all of us – the governments, the civil society organizations, the private sector, including tech companies, and law enforcement agencies.
Indeed, without rights-based governance and ethical guards, we risk leaving women and girls further behind in the digital transformation.
About the Author
Chidiebere Mbah Esq. is Corporate and Commercial Practice Consultant. A Legal Practitioner with a flare for Corporate Practice, Taxation, Litigation/ADR and Human Rights Advocacy. He is a prolific Writer and Poet who believes in salvaging the hope of the common man.
He has written various legal and artistic works to his credit.