Inclusion of Women in Technology: A Stimulus for the African Economy

| September 9, 2020

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Technology in today's world is no longer seen as an exclusive right of a few but rather a way of life that necessitates integration and inclusion for all. The most integral part of technology’s impact on the African economy is still tied to internet penetration per country, closing gender gaps, and creating access to opportunities for digital skill development for all Africans.

With mobile penetration and more digital payment platforms, the informal sector is bound to experience more reach and access to new opportunities and markets. This will also influence the nature of work as well as foster the need to improve connectivity across megacities and underserved communities.

The new global reality has made stark the importance of interconnectivity as it relates to remote work, education, and social interaction. From Johannesburg to Accra, Abidjan to Lagos anyone can work within their local communities, thereby creating an even greater need for connectivity across Africa and the world at large. Improving connectivity in Africa will make it easier than ever for organizations to thrive and expand.

Gaps in Technology

According to UNICEF, while women do 70% of the world’s work, they earn only 10% of the income. Although women own one-third of all private businesses globally, they earn only 1 per cent of the money that large corporations and governments spend on products and services, says Elizabeth Vazquez, President and Co-Founder of WEConnect International. Many women lack the capital, market knowledge, and business connections required to scale up their small businesses, enter high-profit industries, and land lucrative contracts. “It’s not for lack of ability or potential,” Vazquez said. “It’s for lack of exposure and equal opportunity.”

According to research carried out by Mckinsey Global Institute on Women in the Workplace in 2019, women are less well-represented in middle management and formal sector jobs. Notably, women make up 43% of those who receive a tertiary education but hold only 28% of formal sector jobs. Additionally, the share of women in middle management has declined by 1 per cent annually since 2015. The report notes that middle management jobs are a pipeline to leadership level positions and more needs to be done in this area if Africa is going to maintain its lead in female representation at the top level of firms.

Highlighting key areas, the McKinsey Global Institute suggested two focal points; investing in human capital and creating economic opportunity. More specifically, the report proposes investments in girls’ education, skills training for jobs of the future, accessible and affordable health care, and further efforts to improve financial, digital, and legal literacy. To improve economic opportunities for women, the report suggests that African businesses set clear goals for gender diversity and implement mentorship programs.

The Gender Intervention

With the African population set to double by 2050, it is highly likely that almost half of the continent's population will comprise women. This also leads to an increased risk of further marginalizing and disempowering women if policies are not adopted and implemented to enable inclusion and more opportunities that allow women participation in economic strengthening.

To bridge the gap, there’s a collective need to drive policies and initiatives that create opportunities for women to develop digital skills that align with the future of work. Based on the insights gathered from the Tech4Dev’s Women Techsters initiative, an outlined key focus area has been drawn to ensure we are closing the gender divide in Africa

  1. Early education: There is a need for a more intentional approach towards creating a level playing field for women at the very elementary stages of their learning. This includes exposure to basic digital skills, proper career interest programs that help in developing specific interest across different areas based on their relevance to society at large. This will also help in breaking existing stereotypes that suggest specific careers are for men.

    This should go hand in hand with creating experiential learning experiences that encourage girls to use STEM to create solutions for some of the problems within their immediate environment. This will in turn help to show the relevance of engineering in building societies and creating solutions.

    ‘‘Empowering girls and women across Africa with digital skills will lead to having equal access to decent job opportunities as well as aid Africa’s economic growth’’ - Women Techsters Initiative.

  2. Inclusion: This is developing policies within the workplace, institutions, that support and encourage women participation in innovation and key decision making within organizations. This should also include gender representation across all levels within the organization.

    A greater representation of women in STEM across all sectors has an impact on career choices for more women.

  3. Role model leadership: This approach will demand structured mentorship and coaching programs that bring together women in tech across different sectors to adopt local initiatives driven by women in technology and at the same time supporting them with necessary tools based on experience and past expertise on how to improve and shape their career paths.

  4. Policy strengthening and advocacy: There's also the need to involve the government in adopting and supporting advocacy programs that canvas for women inclusion in technology across Africa as a stimulus to the African economy.

  5. Aggregate intervention solutions and initiatives across Africa: The need to build a collective hub that recognizes organizations within Africa that are developing and implementing local and continental initiatives to empower women in STEM is of utmost importance. Government and CSO should work out a structure that compliments capacity building for women with a clear path on how they transition into the active economy. This would include having access to data of every woman in STEM across Africa as it relates to career options, available opportunities, and economic growth.

    In today’s world, content is crude while data is king.

    The likely hood of the African economy experiencing exponential growth is largely tied to investing in human capital development and at the same time providing access to broadband and expanding internet penetration in line with emerging global technology realities as this would enable interconnectivity across the entire continent.