Business

Bridging the Gender Gap for Tech in Africa

To bridge this gender gap requires a deep dive into the obstacles and inequalities facing women in tech, and societal, institutional, and governmental solutions to bridge this inequality.

Africa accounts for 17% of the world’s population, nearly double the population of Europe, but in Tech African women make up a small percentage of total researchers. Just 30% of researchers in Sub Saharan Africa are women. Without a way to bridge the gender gap in tech, Africa risks falling further behind in development and will not be able to meet gender equality goals. 

To bridge this gender gap requires a deep dive into the obstacles and inequalities facing women in tech, and societal, institutional, and governmental solutions to bridge this inequality.  

Obstacles to Women in Tech

African women face a variety of obstacles to succeed in tech, from family pressures to workplace discrimination. Here are the obstacles to be addressed to bridge the gender gap in the African tech sector:

  1. Social and environmental pressures. This can include family and community expectations, as well as a young marriage age and childcare responsibilities. These societal beliefs and pressures are largely connected to feminine stereotypes related to domesticity and shape girls’ learning opportunities and access from an early age. 
  1. Negative Attitudes towards STEM and Tech. Research has consistently shown that when one group of individuals is worried about low performance, their attention is shifted from performing the task to worrying about their performance. This results in low performance, which confirms their negative stereotype. 

This type of negative stereotype has been consistently demonstrated in academic performance between races, and between women and men. Africa women are often doubly susceptible to this negative stereotype. In addition, women are often more drawn to non-tech fields, making them less motivated to overcome negative stereotypes and other bias hurdles. 

  1. Low self-assessment. Research has shown that girls rate their mathematical abilities lower than boys, even when aptitude is similar. Other research shows this low self-assessment in girls from an early age, even when no difference in achievement exists. In addition, girls tend to believe they must be exceptional to succeed in tech, while boys view it as a given. 
  1. Discrimination and bias. There is still a tremendous amount of bias against women in tech, especially in Africa. In a highly competitive environment, women are often left as outsiders or discriminated against. Biased employers still favor male colleagues, even when the woman shows exceptional skill.  This leads to feelings of isolation or not belonging, which are further amplified by the other three factors. Even if a woman has tremendous aptitude in tech, she may start to feel that she does not belong. 

Taken together, these four obstacles to women in tech provide a tremendous challenge. They must be addressed systematically from the local and community level to the national level. 

Solutions to Bridge the Gap for Women in Tech

The first step in bridging the gap in tech was to look at the motivating factors for women who did choose to go into tech-related fields. The number one motivating factor was that it “fits my capability”, while women were also motivated by job security, higher salaries, social status, and work-related benefits.

African women in tech self-reported the primary influences in their lives that inspired a career in tech. These were:

  • Presence of role models and mentors.
  • Supervisor support.
  • Flexible work schedule.
  • Opportunity for training.
  • Availability of funding for scholarships.
  • Funding for research and innovation.
  • Opportunities to network.
  • Opportunities for professional development.
  • Hiring based on knowledge and skills.
  • Maternity leave opportunities.
  • Availability of childcare.
  • Transparency in communication.
  • Support of colleagues at the workplace.

Taken together, these influences provide a clear path to bridge the gap of gender inequality for governments and businesses. Benefits such as a flexible work schedule, paid maternity leave and childcare are low-cost incentives to bring more women into tech. Additional training and mentorship programs will benefit not only current women in tech but future generations. 

Policy Options

Policies should extend to every area of society from specialized school programs, to workplace programs to support women and government educational policies to promote women in tech. Three primary areas of focus should be:

  1. Community Education. To encourage more women for tech will require education for families so women receive support from their families and communities on the value and role of women in tech. 
  1. Scholarships. Scholarships and financial resources available for women will play a key role to bridge the gender gap in Africa, as families struggling for funds will require girls to drop out of school first. 
  1. Role models and mentors. Mentorship programs will also be essential for women and girls to network and learn from other women in tech. 

With policy support, education, and systematic encouragement, Africa can bridge the gender gap and create a new generation of women in tech to develop new frontiers and take Africa into a leading position of tech for the 21st century. 

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