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Breaking the gender gap in the Nigerian technology ecosystemBy Oluchi Egboh on June 21, 2021

With new developments in STEM and IT, we’ve witnessed a seachange in the dynamics of the technology industry. IT has slowly but surely embedded itself in every area of society taking over the roles of men and women thereby reducing the workload for the people. Countries in the first or third worlds have swiftly begun to take advantage of this new tech including Nigeria.
According to the Q3 2020 report by the National Bureau of Statistics, the tech industry contributed 14% to the growth of Nigeria’s GDP. Regardless of this substantial growth statistics prove that women are not major contributors to the recent improvements. Women have proven to be great assets to the IT industry and this can be attributed to the workings of organizations like Access Bank and its African Fintech Foundry initiative who put together events like the WiT: Driving Diversity in the African Tech Industry which I recently attended. The event featured leading women who are doing an amazing job representing women in technology and are currently battling the obstacles which are causing the massive gender gap in the tech industry.

Africa is known to be one of the continents that underestimate the efforts of women in the workplace, but this gender stereotype is seen more in male-dominated industries and organizations. Ajoristedere Awosika, Board Chairman Access Bank went on to say that “it has been noted 35% of women with the same skill set as men receive unequal pay.”

Access Bank Board Chairman Ajoristedere Awosika making her opening statement

Access Bank Board Chairman Ajoristedere Awosika making her opening statement

These types of biased practices hike the gender gap. We are yet to realize how detrimental it is to our society if the current state of gender diversity in tech is not balanced. Nigeria can boast of a labor force of around 69.7 million 43% of which are women according to the Q4 2020 report by NBS. How can we increase the productive capital of this population if a greater number of women are not involved in the workforce? It’s no secret that men make up more of the work population whereas women can increase Nigeria and the world’s GDP if they are allowed to do so. Professor Olayinka David-West, Associate Dean of Lagos Business School explained that the social and cultural norms attributed to femininity have certain biases that have been embedded into society and breaking from these norms is the first step we can take to incentivize gender diversity.

IN3K8 Media · Prof Olayinka David-West talks about relationships between town and gown

A good start to debunking these biased social and cultural norms is hosting more programs that support the push to eradicate gender gaps in the working climate. It would enlighten more people on these problematic norms that need to be dropped to create a healthier work environment for women thereafter increasing the population of women in our IT industry.With the fast-paced growth of the tech industry, it calls for more skilled women in tech to adapt to the current digital market and database management. The African tech ecosystem could grow in its profits and further expand across Africa with an increase of its workforce. In addition, this could spread these tech operations across our society empowering young people with easier access to tech knowledge and opportunity. Most African countries struggle with keeping records of its citizens due to the lack of a proper centralized database, through more tech candidates we could aid in solving these problems one step at a time.

As more people acquaint themselves with the idea of a tech community inhabited by more women, we’ll begin to see the beneficial outcomes of a balanced gender ratio. Simileoluwa Afolabi-Jumbo, Founder of TheSQLBabe expounded on the necessity for more representation of women in the tech communities. With more IT communities run by women, an example of which is Data Tech Space. This initiative encouraged Simi to participate in this community and underscores the importance of representation in tech. With more representation, women aspiring to learn are motivated to step forward. Simi dispelled the false perception most women have on the need for a technical background to work in tech. She went on to say that, “data analysis and data visualization is simply answering a question and anyone can do it with the right training”. As if on cue African Fintech Foundry announced its award to 5 women for free entry into the Female Tutor Academy where 50 women will be taught how to code, learning SQL and Java along with internship placements. Gestures such as these present women with the opportunity to equip themselves in safe spaces where there is no intimidation from the opposite gender. Simi’s company, as its name implies, also offers women-centric SQL training.

IN3K8 Media · Eloho Omame on economic power for women in startups

Representation of women in tech is important but some organizations have women working with them in roles that downplay their skills, leaving them no room to display their full capabilities. On the second panel discussion which was a Q&A session Eloho Omame, First Check Africa’s cofounder was asked how to ensure that the women in tech are not just figureheads. Turns out that this was an issue that Eloho had seen first hand in her role at First Check Africa, with scenarios where the startups they worked with have gender diverse teams. On closer examination, however, she uncovered that in very many instances women were left with significantly less equity than their male counterparts. To be clear First Check Africa solely empowers and supports women through investments or partnership, with the aim of building a female-led community that works.

Eloho’s suggestion entails a thorough review of the dynamics of the startup leadership team pointing out areas of adjustment for the team to work on. Instances where the startups have women in CEO or CTO roles are a key attraction for First Check Africa, as women in these roles can command more equity and are in the driving seat. The support offered to companies with this make up promotes representation of women in tech and gives these women the economic power to succeed.

Panel discussion with the speakers

Panel discussion with the speakers

The emergence of cryptocurrency, blockchain, AI and the fintech economy has created opportunities for women to flourish in the technology space. Fara Ashiru Jitubu CEO of Okra explained that when building a business whether an ecommerce site with online transactions, API or mobile applications where the business is solely driven by technology and data there are numerous roles which could be filled by women. According to her it is up to startups to consider the number of women that could fill these roles. As Fara further said, “we need to be deliberate with these changes to see actual results.”
Most startups are starting to see data as an essential resource that will help target the right customers and understand how to retain them. A large number of these startups don’t have the tools or capabilities for efficiently extracting insights from rapidly growing datasets and this is one area where women can come in. Training for the role of a data analyst can be obtained from tools such as Tableau without a technical background. With these new found skills women can apply for roles opened up by technology companies and startups where data is fast becoming the new currency. These procedures drive gender diversity in the technology ecosystem.

We’ve discussed disadvantages of an imbalanced gender ratio in the society and economy. Now let’s talk about it’s effects on the mental health of women. Half of the time when a woman walks into an office where there are more men than women she is immediately uncomfortable. It keeps ringing in the back of her head that she has to work twice as hard as these men. A woman surrounded by men is always under pressure to magnify her skills to gain validation. The constant pressure to do better puts strain on the mental health of these women and causes them to lose faith in strengths. Low self esteem which stems from this loss of faith invariably leads to women turning down chances to excel leading to a vicious spiral.

IN3K8 Media · Fade Ogunro on deliberate strategies for facilitating representation

Fade Ogunro, CEO of Bookings Africa runs an organization which is actively looking for women to fill tech roles, but there seems to be a dearth of women to fill these roles. Fade revealed that most of these women who are interested in tech are often scared and not sure how to get involved in the tech space, frequently intimidated by the population of men in the tech industry. It goes to show that most women do not feel that the tech industry is a safe space for them and we will only see an increase in gender diversity if the tech industry is more accommodating to women.

The organizations currently working towards increasing gender diversity in tech like African Fintech Foundry and First Check Africa as well as the outstanding women who attended the event are going out of their way to ensure that we see more representation of women in tech. They all acknowledge that women deserve more opportunities to flourish, and have begun the journey to educate our communities on why they should take on the same perspective. The WiT event is definitely the sort of thing we need to see more of to facilitate the growth of gender diversity in tech and in so doing power a stronger economy while raising more role models for tomorrow’s girl child.

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