By Phillipa Osakwe-Okoye, Principal, BCG Lagos
According to a youth survey report issued by the National Bureau of Statistics, young women in Nigeria are half as likely to have a career in computer science and technology-related fields as men.
While the ICT gap in digital skills is evident across regional boundaries and income levels, it is more severe for women who are older, less educated, poor or living in rural areas and developing countries.
The ICT knowledge gap intersects issues of poverty and educational access. Education systems are increasingly trying to ensure equitable, inclusive and high-quality digital skills across board. Though knowledge in ICT opens pathways to further learning and skills development, women and girls are still being left behind in ICT knowledge education. Why?
Research has shown that girls and women avoid taking science subjects as compared to boys and men. Particularly in rural communities, the girls and women struggle to participate in anything technology-related. The stereotypes around technology being a masculine career and fear of being discriminated against stop girls from embracing digital skills.
Interestingly, research shows that ICT was actually deemed a career for the girls in the early 1900s. It is recorded that during the WWII, female mathematicians were secretly recruited to help calculate trajectories and ballistic tables for soldiers in the field and bombardiers in the air. In fact, some of the earliest technology and software companies were established and run by women: Elsie Shutt in 1958 and Stephanie Shirley in 1962.
The question then is, how did the stereotype of ICT being a career for men begin? How did ICT become a male-dominated field? One reason could be girls are often discouraged from taking up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects early in school due to gender bias and stereotypes. Without the right encouragement and background support, girls sometimes transition eventually to other career paths.
In comparison, male counterparts are more likely to have had more ample exposure to computers either for gaming, learning or experimenting. They are more often more knowledgeable of ICT topics, given them an academic edge in ICT.
So how can girls bridge this gap?
To bridge the knowledge gap in the ICT world today, STEM education should be more incorporated into the learning curriculum of schools – at both the primary and secondary stages. Teachers should become more empathetic and patient with the female students. Society – especially parents, will need to be more accepting of female participation in ICT and proactively push for greater levels of adoption.
Successful women in the ICT space should conscientiously mentor younger women, especially those at the early stages of learning. More rewards, incentives and scholarships should be extended to girls in STEM. These can build on the collaborative efforts of government agencies and technology corporations like Interswitch, BCG, Google, Andela, StarBridge Africa, Microsoft, Intel etc. to drive up the study of STEM subjects by girls, by deploying e-learning facilities and shaping supportive governmental policies.
As a forward-thinking company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is raising its voice alongside every other organisation to celebrate, raise more awareness and support technology education and skills training among girls. We encourage young women to actively pursue courses in STEM.
At BCG, where the majority of the employees in the Lagos office are females, empathy is expressed within the work environment which helps the female employees feel valued. They are strongly supported by the male counterparts which has paved the way for the women to continue to succeed.
International Girls in ICT Day is an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) initiative and global movement to encourage girls and young women to consider studies and careers in ICT. It is annually celebrated on the fourth Thursday of April.