How technology can help close Nigeria’s gender gap

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The information and communication technology (ICT) sector contributed 18.44% to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2022 and the industry is projected to experience more leaps in the future.

This growth is significant when compared to the fact that ICT contributed less than 1% to Nigeria’s GDP in 2001. However, despite the rapid growth of the country’s tech sector, only very few women have the opportunity to participate as the ecosystem is largely dominated by men.

Data from research by ONE Campaign and the Center for Global Development showed that only about 30% of 93 surveyed technology companies in Nigeria are owned by women, and more than one-third of these companies employed no women at all.

Nigeria near bottom of global gender gap index

With Nigeria ranking 139 out of 153 countries in the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, these figures simply paint the uneven picture that while men are actively shaping Nigeria’s technology ecosystem, women are largely passive users.

Among the many reasons implicated in this disparity, poverty, cultural bias towards the girl-child education, and lack of female-venture funding and mentorship stand out.

If we continue this trajectory, it will be difficult to make significant progress in Nigeria towards Sustainable Development Goal 5 which aims to achieve gender equality for all by 2030, and we will ultimately lose out on the advantages of having a more inclusive tech ecosystem.

One may wonder why this under-representation in tech matters. There are myriad reasons, but for starters, innovation needs diversity. Research from within and outside the technology sector shows that better solutions are created when the developers fully represent the diversity of the society we live in.

It makes logical sense. If technology is only being created by a portion of the population, how effective will it really be? Without the contribution of women, many opportunities and challenges will be missed or only partially solved.

Secondly, despite the growth of Nigeria’s tech sector, the shortage of tech talents is still a major issue. TechCabal reports that with a population of over 200 million people, Nigeria has only about 83,000 developers.

Compare this with South Africa which has about 118,000 developers out of a population of 59 million, and California which has 630,000 developers, out of a total population of 39 million. Female tech talents would not only be instrumental in filling this gap but will also bring the needed boost to Nigeria’s tech sector within the global tech industry.

Lastly, even though they make up about 50% of the population, women are more adversely affected by economic challenges in Nigeria with regards to unemployment and income inequality, and this may mean they rely more on others for survival.

Since science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs are in high demand and well-paid, increasing female participation in the tech sector is one of the feasible pathways to lifting this critical mass out of economic hardship and balancing out income inequality.

Upskill women with in-demand technology skills

We need to transcend the traditional notion of female empowerment which focuses on skills with low economic value, to upskilling our young women with 21st-century relevant and in-demand technology skills like cloud computing, software development, data analysis, digital marketing, among others.

A key pillar to achieving this is consciously investing in breaking the cultural bias towards female education. Women make on average just 22% of the total number of STEM university graduates in Nigeria each year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

We need to encourage more women to get involved and not to see technology as a masculine career. I’d share a few ideas that are not necessarily novel but can be scaled for greater impact.

1. Female-focused technology scholarship opportunities

A classic example is the Ingressive for Good 1000 Women in Design scholarship that aims to close the gender equity gap in the design industry. Key partnerships with private sector players like online learning platforms to provide course content, financing partners to sponsor the course costs, and telecom operators to provide free or discounted data for “learning-only” will be instrumental to achieve these efforts.

For example, if a telecom operator provides 10 gigabytes worth of data per month to a scholarship awardee which can only be spent when they log on to the learning platform, this will go a long way in upskilling a lot of persons who are unable to afford the high cost of data in Nigeria. Partnership with companies to create dedicated internships and entry-level programs will also be crucial to getting these talents started in tech careers.

2. Female-focused investment funds and accelerators

Currently redefining preventive healthcare in Nigeria by leveraging technology in health diagnostics, Healthtracka is an example of a female-led start-up that benefited from participating in a business accelerator, and funding by First Check Africa, a Venture Capital firm that, as its name suggests, intends to give female founders their first cheque.

HerRyde, is another example of a female-led start-up leveraging technology to address the alarming rate of harassment and abuse women face on ride-hailing trips in Nigeria. Besides the business opportunity in this solution, imagine the social impact it will have on society with sufficient funding behind it.
Such problems will only be adequately addressed when more women are accommodated into the tech ecosystem in Nigeria. Hopefully with these interventions, we would see more female-led unicorns in the near future.

3. Organized mentorship platforms

For a lot of young women who have only known about the barriers and limitations that exist for women getting into tech, they need to interact with role models who have succeeded in this sector to keep their ambitions alive.

Hence, mentorship programmes between young women in tech and female technology leaders will be critical to enabling their career growth and entrepreneurship development.

Some communities centred around this idea already exist in some form but need to be scaled-up and structured for growth, or better still established as sub-communities under established platforms like the Women in management, business and public service (WIMBIZ).

The girl child needs to be given equal support and access to the tools she needs to succeed in tech as her male peers. This includes information, skills, and access to finance, technology, and markets.

The theme for 2022 International Women’s Day was “Break the Bias”; I believe there couldn’t be a better call to action for Nigeria’s tech sector to close the gender gap and reach its full potential.

Article originally published by World Economic Forum.

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