Women in Technology: Closing the Gap Through a Combination of Deliberation Actions in Policies & Resource Deployment

By Genevieve Mbama

A government survey conducted in Nigeria in 2013, found that less than 8% of professional, management or technological positions are held by Nigerian women. To narrow the gap requires a private and public concerted effort through deliberate policy frameworks, funding/investment support, competency center for skills development more women will have their careers within the ICT circle.

Sometime in 2016 I was in conversation with a former CIO of one of the leading Banks in Nigeria, who had just left the Bank to launch his entrepreneurial venture and our discourse centered on position of women in Information Technology sphere generally, specifically Nigeria. The genesis of this conversation was a post he made a week before on his Facebook page where he posted pictures of former members of his team and the entire 30- member team were all male; no single lady! I has asked him why he did not deem it fit to have a single lady in his team; I also shared observations I made in the course of my consultative engagements with Technology Departments in different organizations in Nigeria where I noted over 80% did not have any female in the management team, while less than 5 % have women in the executive team. Personally, I found myself in the same situation because at that time, in my Line of Business across EMEA comprising Digital Technology Consultants & Solution Specialists; we were 4 ladies out of 30 Directors, the rest were male. So, I could relate.

I summed it up by asserting that the Technology Industry in Nigeria is pretty “masculine”, basically implying that it is significantly male- dominated both in paid employment and the entrepreneurial world. Expectedly he agreed with me and went on to give his perspective. He had explained that the reason he did not recruit ladies in his team, was because of the rigour of the work, which was mostly because managing Technology platform in any organization involves a good doze of crisis management, very long hours of work and in many instances, duty calls at unholy hours. Succinctly put, he believes women should be involved in “Soft” work, rather than the “Hard” work.  How chauvinistic!

I simply objected, reminding him that first, women are naturally gifted to multi-task because of the role mother nature bestowed on us, hence it is wrong to assume women are incapable of effectively handling crisis driven jobs; and secondly but most importantly;  in the current digital world, the role of the CIO has expanded to include innovation and IT-Business alignment, the two of which connect to what women are great at–Insight, Creativity and Problem Solving– hence any IT organization, that ignores ladies, impose limitations on their capacity to innovate!

Unfortunately, I had to admit to him that somehow much fewer women than men are pursuing careers in technology; hence more needs to be done to motivate, encourage and support younger ladies to get into the technology sphere. The reality today, is that the situation is still the same, but the good news is that an increasing number of women are embracing the technology world and striving to find their game. They are taking a lead in creating new tech ideas, designing and developing solution, initiating and implementing decisions that are changing the dynamics and direction of the Information Technology sector though the gap remains wide. Industry watchers say the ratio of men compared to that of women in the sector tilts around 80-20%. But the gaps are expected to close gradually as an increasing number of females are enrolling for tech and innovation courses; and a greater number of the female-gender are increasingly finding it reasonable to make career choices within the knowledge industry.

Despite this, the odds are not in favor of women in information technology world in Nigeria, not a few have held their turf and taking bold steps in various endeavors across the Technology value chain from Policy Making to Skills development & Acquisition, Software Development & Engineering, Tech Consulting, Tech Entrepreneurship & Venturing, Tech Sales & Business Development, Corporate Management and so on. They have contributed immensely to the growth and development of the technology industry in Nigeria. 

Here are a few of them.

Late Florence Seriki

Computer Systems Entrepreneur/Manufacturer

Though she is late, she is remembered for her dexterity and courage as the first Nigerian Woman to dare where men held sway when she founded Omatek, Nigeria’s first indigenous computer assembly and manufacturing company established in 1987. Mrs. Florence Seriki won a good number of laurels, in recognition of her contributions to the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Nigeria and Africa at large.  She won the Young Entrepreneurship Award of the Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce in 1992 and also a recipient of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) during Umaru Musa Yar’adua administration.

Omobola Johnson

Former Minister of ICT & Former MD, Accenture (Technology Policy Maker, Consultant & Entrepreneur)

As pioneer head of the country’s communication technology (ComTech) ministry, she set a new pace in stakeholders engagement and brought into the ministry and advance thinking in policy and action formation once unknown. 

Under her watch, Nigeria launched and consolidated her entry into the satellite communication industry with NigComSat-IR, to complement the series of fibre connectivity, backbone infrastructure initiatives designed to deepen broadband penetration in Nigeria. 

The ministry under her watch also deployed more than 700 personal computers to secondary schools in the first phase of School Access Programme (SAP) while about 193 tertiary institutions in the country had internet access in the Tertiary Institution Access Programme (TIAP) and 146 communities had access to Community Communication Centers deployed around the country. 

In addition, she has been on the vanguard of promoting ICT innovations in Nigeria as she midwifed the establishment of Idea Hub Yaba, Lagos & Innovation centers in major cities of Nigeria .

She is currently the Lead General Partner for TLcom Capital, a venture capital firm based in Nairobi, Lagos and London that has for about 20 years been investing in telecom, media and technology (TMT) companies including start-ups in Europe, Israel and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  

Omobola has always been in the vanguard of promoting ICT innovations in Nigeria. 

She midwifed the establishment of Idea Hub Yaba, Lagos & Innovation centers in major cities of Nigeria.

Funke Okpeke

ICT Infrastructure Guru and Entrepreneur

Not many saw her coming, when she left her lucrative employ as the first female Chief Technical Officer of MTN Nigeria and within a short while, she assembled a team of investors, financiers and technical partners to build MainOne a communications infrastructure services and data management company with footprint across West Africa as the Founder and CEO.  The company that is redefining connectivity beyond Nigeria and the ECOWAS region.

Funke was inspired by the passion to address the problem of low internet connectivity and high cost of high grade IT Infrastructure. Few years ago, in partnership with foreign OEM providers of IT Infrastructure, MainOne built a Tier-4 Datacenter, primed to provide ICT backbone in area of IT system Hosting services, Network Solutions & disaster recovery centers to corporates in Nigeria. 

Hence, MainOne is envisioned to close the connectivity and IT Infrastructure gaps in the sub-region, and is steadily making huge financial and human capital investment towards this purpose and with steady growth turns to become one of Africa’s leading communications services and network solutions providers.

Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin

Nigerian Women and Girls Advocate Social Tech Entrepreneur

She is the founder of Pearls Africa Youth Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization aimed at educating young girls in under-served areas in Nigeria with technology skills. 

On November 1 2018, Ajayi-Akinfolarin was named one of ten CNN Heroes of the year. Later that month she was listed as one of BBC’s 100 Women.

Inspired by the wide gender gap in technology industry that she discovered during the course of her career as a Tech Consultant, she decided to help close that gap and encourage more women in her field, by establishing her own non-profit organization; Pearls Africa Youth Foundation.  A Non-Governmental Organization that assists girls in developing technology skills through various programs including; GirlsCoding, G.C Mentors, GirlsInSTEM and Empowered Hands. 

Since 2012, the organization has trained over 400 young women to code.

Conclusion

According to one study, by 2020 there would be about 1.4 million computer science related jobs. Much of that will be handled by men.  In addition, A government survey conducted in Nigeria in 2013, found that less than 8% of professional, management or technological positions are held by Nigerian women. To close the gap and encourage the female gender requires a private and public concerted effort through deliberate policy frameworks, funding/investment support, competency center for skills development more women will have their careers within the ICT circle.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Genevieve Mbama is a Digital Technology & Innovation Solution Specialist; Economic Inclusion Advocate, Blogger and Writer. She  holds a B.Sc Economics & Statistics, from the University of Benin and an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management.