As the tech industry booms, we’ve come to see more female innovators and trailblazers contributing to the growth of the ecosystem but we are still a long way from the ideal
The International Women’s Day (IWD) represents a day to amplify the voices, contributions and accomplishments of women. It is a global event that celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year's celebration themed ‘Gender Equality for a Sustainable Tomorrow, #BreakTheBias’ dwells on the gender disparity women face across all facets of life.
If we randomly asked you, how many female senior software developers do you know? You’d probably rack your head only to drop two or three names. It’s not surprising as society continues to depict tech as a male domain. Now you see, it didn’t just start today. It was from the early days when girls were given baby dolls and cooking utensils as toys whilst the boys had the brick games, toy cars and machines. That’s how we gradually condition young girls to settle for less, they learn to conform to societal expectations through these experiences.
Going back to the software engineer question, according to a global survey done by Statista in 2021, 91.7% of software developers are male. What we have currently is the result of numerous years of societal conditioning where women are relegated to less prominent roles. This startling gender gap leads to intimidation, and this is why tech women feel they have to put in double the amount of efforts to be regarded in the same breath as their male counterparts.
As the tech industry booms, we’ve come to see more female innovators and trailblazers contributing to the growth of the ecosystem but we are still a long way from the ideal. This year, we spoke to a number of women in tech who have pushed beyond bias and limitations as part of efforts to promote gender equality. This article features seven high-flying women in tech, who have built stellar careers against all odds, to share actionable ways that organisations can break the existing gender bias against women in the tech space. Here’s how it went down:
Equality in Payscale
You know how society portrays the male as the “provider” and the female as the “homemaker”, the effects of this is evident in the earning power of both genders. Men are paid way more than women despite being on the same job level, the gap becomes wider as they progress to higher job levels. Gift Egwuenu, a Developer Advocate at Cloudflare acknowledged this issue of economic disparity in the tech space where women are paid considerably less despite putting in the required efforts.
How do we close this gap? Stakeholders can start by creating a structured and transparent Wage system, they can go further by publishing information on how their remuneration frameworks helps to achieve pay parity. This will effectively set the tone on the journey to achieving equal pay. Gift encapsulates it properly with this quote “To level the playing field for women in tech, stakeholders should implement equal gender pay across all boards”
Make Space for Female Software Engineers
The power of community in the tech industry is undeniable. A lot of the exponential growth in tech in the last five years can be attributed to the supportive communities providing resources and guidance making it easy for the industry to flourish.
While this growth is celebrated and very much welcome, a large number of these communities are male dominated. This has left women within the industry struggling to find some sense of belonging. Thankfully, a few organisations and women have, in the last few years invested in creating women-focused tech communities like Google’s Women TechMakers (WTM), Women In Tech In Nigeria (WITIN) by MTN, and SheCodes Africa (SCA) founded by Ada Nduka Oyom. These are laudable but not enough to bridge the participation gap. We need more communities like the aforementioned where female tech enthusisasts and women in tech can learn, grow and thrive.
Jemima Abu, a remarkable Software Engineer who is an avid advocate for diversity and intersectionality in technology and accessibility in web development puts this succinctly when she said that “the best way to challenge these biases is to make a conscious effort to create space for more female developers, create communities where female developers can feel safe and welcome”.
Create an all-inclusive environment
When women clamour for inclusion in the workplace, it’s borne out of the numerous cases where decisions that affect the lives of women in the workplace have been made by men. A lot of organisations have very low female representation in leadership positions. One of the reasons is not far-fetched. The biological construct of women constitutes a limiting factor in career progression.
Life events such as getting married or even having a baby have been known to significantly reduce a woman’s chances of landing a job. There’s an example of a female executive who had to lie she had no kids because she feared it might dampen her chances of getting the job, this is systemic bias. Ugonna Thelma Ofoegbu, Senior Frontend Engineer at Heycar Group, believes that women need to be afforded the freedom to express and lead irrespective of their marital or parental status. She wants more organisations to “use inclusive language. Let [women] lead and let [women] speak.”
A good way to go about this is to set achievable targets to increase representation of women across all levels of organizational hierarchy, we need more women in C-Suite positions. Also, offer fully paid parental leave of up to 6 months or a flexible remote policy for nursing mothers. Allow room for women to contribute and perform to the maximum of their potentials.
Educational Schemes for Women
Riding on the age-long belief that Knowledge is Power, education plays a crucial role in the fight for gender equality. As Gen Z’s and Millennials, Our Baby Boomer parents were very particular about education because they know the importance.
The simple solution to getting more women involved in tech is equipping them with the knowledge and required skills, there’s no other way around it.
Feranmi Okafor, a seasoned Growth Marketer and founder at Tech Marketers Hub, built a community for budding and established marketers in the African tech space. She’s supporting the ecosystem, helping young marketers thrive by providing them with learning resources, tips, insights and industry best practices. She stands by her words when she says “stakeholders need to back and fund women-centred tech initiatives”. Emphasising on the need to empower women by investing in relevant educational schemes.
It is imperative for tech organizations to fund programs that equip women with practical knowledge on in-demand skills to help them launch profitable careers. Also, we should provide entry level internship schemes to serve as a springboard.
Mentor Young Female Tech Talent
If we truly aspire to break gender bias, it starts from the early years. The first 2000 days of a child are critical because it is during this period they develop perspectives and mindsets. This is why we have a disproportionate ratio of boys to girls in STEM-related courses at the university level.
Good news is we have people like Chisom Nwokwu, Software Engineer at Microsoft, and Author of Object oriented concepts as explained to a 6-year-old, and The Model-view-view model as explained to a 6-year old, putting in great effort to educate the younglings. She admonishes stakeholders to nurture female talents from younger years and expose them to the boundless opportunities that exist in the tech space.
Driving gender equality requires us to be proactive from the early stages, mentorship at grassroot levels will go a long way in enlightening young girls about the opportunities that exist for them in tech. We need programmes that specifically target young girls with learning activities, access to female role models, sponsored excursions to tech conferences and exhibitions.
Create a Growth Enabling Environment for Women
Gender equality has sort of become a buzzword for companies that want to be perceived as progressive and inclusive. However, actions need to back up the talk. A lot of the Tech Companies that run promotional campaigns advocating for gender equality in the workplace cannot boast of a healthy female to male employee ratio.
Karen Okonkwo, a leading Software Engineer currently working with Bloomberg L.P spoke about the stereotypical culture that associates engineering and technology to men hereby undermining female abilities and contributing to the minority inclusion of women. Currently, she contributes to the technology that allows Bloomberg’s 3000+ editorial staff worldwide to publish market-moving financial news.
There can be more Karens in tech if we cultivate an environment that fosters growth and encourages female participation. Initiatives like Talent pipelines, career development programs, access to tools and technologies are essential to ensuring progression. Stakeholders could go further to create committees to trackgender equality performance in organizational processes like; recruitment, remuneration, workplace policies, and identify areas where improvements need to be made.
Fund Women-Centric Programs
Blessing Abeng, a Branding and Communications expert and Co-founder at Ingressive For Good talked about the need for stakeholders to back educational programs laser-focused on empowering women. She speaks from a practical position as she runs an edtech mission dedicated to upskilling African talents with in-demand tech skills.
We need more initiatives like Ingressive for Good. A notable landmark was achieved with the launch of FirstCheck Africa, a VC fund for women-led startups. This is big progress on the path to creating more female success stories. This is an appeal to the wider tech community; we need to back women-focused initiatives, provide access to market opportunities, sponsor female-friendly policies, and do everything to build the capacity of women.
Blessing also believes that women have a part to play in the fight against gender bias. She advises women to not “ be comfortable with being the only woman in the room. It’s okay to be the first but don’t be the only”. Breaking the Bias can only be achieved through collective efforts on all fronts.
Happy International Women’s Day, Together we can #BreakTheBias.