Tuesday February 25 2014

TECH AND BUSINESS: Creating more options for women with technology

By Joyce Kyeyune Tonda

My daughter was the first among her siblings to learn to ride her bicycle-on day one. It should not be surprising, considering all children have equal arms and legs but I was still surprised. I expected her machine-loving brothers to zoom ahead. They learned on day 30. I was surprised because like many people, I am duped by gender stereotyping.

So what’s the correlation between the bicycle and technology? What we believe is ultimately what we become. If I believe machines are no place for a girl, I will not allow her anywhere near a machine.

Part of the reason is that, girls are raised not to tinker but to bring order. Boys are raised to fix things. Girls are encouraged to become lawyers, doctors, teachers primarily and if she is really headstrong-“Alright go ahead and do engineering but…” She will have to work twice as hard to prove herself to the teachers who are usually predominantly male.

A 2013 Gender Benchmarking Study funded by Elsevier Foundation researching women in science and technology (in Brazil, South Africa, India, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, the US and the EU) noted that: “… in the areas of engineering, physics and computer science women remain severely under-represented in degree programs for these fields—less than 30% in most countries”. The same study observed that: “Even in countries where the numbers of women studying science and technology have increased, it has not translated into more women in the workplace.”

Other studies show the number of women in science and technology worldwide is actually on the decline even in tech giant countries like the US where in the 1980s 35 per cent of the tech workforce were women; today it stands at 15 per cent.

Globally, we don’t lack female role models at the helm of tech: Marissa Mayer heads Yahoo; Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook; Meg Whitman is CEO, Hewlett Packard, and the list goes on.

But why do we need more girls in tech anyway? To be politically correct? No, but to give girls more options. Technology because of its dynamic nature presents thousands of economic possibilities with or without a degree unlike other specialised fields.

Seated at my desk, I learned of a woman who was taking her two-year-old to a boarding school. I could not fathom the reasons that would force her to do so.

I thought that if she had had the option to learn only to type on a computer-she could have worked at a secretarial bureau and made a little more money to pay a caregiver so she could see her toddler in the evenings at least. Women need more options.

Joyce Kyeyune Tonda is the Managing Editor Enterprise Technology.