Women in ICT – Moving up the Value Chain (3)
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Support, Barriers and the Environment Furthermore, female students taking S&T programs lack a solid support structure. Female students don’t often have many other female peers in their classes. And there isn’t strong support from the home environment and the educational system because of deep-rooted negative prejudices.
As expected such societal expectations dampen and stifle interest. For such female students, it’s difficult to ignore the negativity in the environment - it’s often easier and safer to go with what society expects.
What incentives are used to retain women in the ICT industry - to enable women to achieve their full potential within the ICT industry? Rather than incentives, barriers seem to be the reality women in ICT face.
Discrimination in the labour market and workplace further reinforces negative bias in the environment. “The Engineering job is too tough for women” “Climbing of masts is too dangerous for women”, “It’s hard work, no maternity leave”. ”What are you looking for in an occupation meant for men?”
Discrimination can be subtle, direct or systemic – i.e. already built into the system and mindsets of decision makers. Having fewer women at the top in the ICT field certainly doesn’t help. Women who do work in specialist areas tend to be on their own and isolated. Just like female students, the support structures are weak.
In addition, the work environment isn’t too friendly or sensitive to the other responsibilities of female ICT specialists. In most societies which are male dominated, the career family balance is a recurring issue – many women have to address the challenge of growing a career and raising a family.
Most ICT education providers and training firms too don’t take these other important needs of women into account. Balancing these challenges can be overwhelming. Due to the hostility of the environment, many women who do come into ICT don’t stay. More women are getting out of ICT than those staying or coming in. In the UK, the percentage of women in the IT workforce has fallen from 27% in 1996 to 21% in 2005, according to UK’s Office of National Statistics.
Having the capacity to invest is also important. To develop the ability to access and utilize ICT for development you must invest resources. Costs are coming down but ICT still isn’t cheap. Poverty affects women more than men. In most developing countries, poverty is real and in an environment of scarce resources, the economic issues at play cannot be ignored. The rural woman has to battle with the needs of survival.
Often women are unwilling to invest scarce resources because the benefits aren’t obvious. Many people, men and women, still can’t see the linkage between ICT and poverty eradication. Stereotyping is also responsible for perceptions and the low level of awareness about ICT careers and opportunities. To many women ICT is simply not a priority.
In the Development Information Network (Devnet) publication, ICT and Women 2005, Atinuke Odukoya states: “Women in general are less educated especially in science and technology, also there is a lack in the content available through ICTs such that many women are not convinced that ICTs can improve their conditions and time taken to familiarize themselves with ICTs is worthwhile, the major question is does it put food on my table?
Another obstacle is that women are reluctant to invest their hard earned money, energy and time into learning how to use the technology since it does not translate to physical cash for them”.
Even when they are interested in ICT, many women lack the capacity to invest one - because of other competing and important needs as mentioned earlier and two - because they simply don’t have the financial backup. The majority of women live and work in the rural areas. Will rural women invest when they haven’t solved the problem of illiteracy and poverty? It’s the catch 22 poverty trap – to get out poverty they must empower themselves and yet they need financial resources to empower themselves.
Most of the issues, practices and barriers creating new and perpetuating existing inequalities and discrimination affecting women in the ICT profession are connected. These factors are also responsible for the inability of most women to get quality access to ICT.
Empowerment - Moving up the Value Chain
To fully empower women, usage of ICT will not be enough and the barriers highlighted must be addressed. There is a need for creativity in dealing with this issue. In addressing this concern how well are we using opportunities thrown up by the knowledge society? Is there a realization that women need to actively participate in ICT developments?
You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge. Does the society understand the need to close the digital gender divide?
First the need to break this barrier must be recognized and taken as a priority. Furthermore, primitive stereotyping meant for dinosaur age needs to be addressed.
Nigeria has attempted to address these important Women in ICT concerns. Nigeria's National ICT4D plan launched in May 2010 at eNigeria 2010 includes specific policy Initiatives for the advancement and empowerment of women through ICTs. The devil is however in ensuring there is sincerity and commitment in implementation of the plan. Implementation has fallen far short of expectations. There is a need for improvement.
Women need to move up the ICT value chain. Women must become active players in the ICT industry – the industry that drives the knowledge revolution. ICT professionals are needed in all segments of the economy. With local and global dependence, there are enormous opportunities - paid employment and entrepreneurship - for women in the ICT sector.
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Jide Awe is the Publisher of Jidaw.com
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