The tech industry has ushered a completely new level of growth and potential all over the world. However, one of the major sticking points of the sector has been the meagre representation of women in it.
It is an unfortunate reality that women have historically been underrepresented in sectors that are the main engines of growth in the economy. However, given the astronomical steps that feminism has accomplished in recent decades, along with the greater awareness level on gender rights that now exists, there should be no excuse for the systematic underrepresentation of women in tech. Even the Silicon Valley giants aren’t immune to gender disparity amongst their ranks: in 2014, Microsoft reported that only 16 percent of their technical positions were occupied by women. Twitter has only 10 percent of its tech jobs occupied by women, whereas Google has a slightly better representation of women in tech positions at 17 percent.
The situation in Sierra Leone is no different. Last year’s freshmen class at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) had only 6 females out of the total class size of 38, while the male/female ratio in the Computer Science department at Njala University is a mere 70/30.
The underrepresentation of women in tech also directly affects the bottom line of businesses. Researchers at the University of Castilla de Mancha, Spain, have reported that Fortune 500 companies that have the highest representation of female board directors have a 42% higher return on sales.
The International Girls in ICT Day initiative is a global effort on encouraging young women to consider studies and careers in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Since 2011, it has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday of April in 150 countries around the world, with more than 5,300 events held up to date and a combined participation of around 177,000 girls. Last year, 66,000 young girls were reached out via 1,800 events held all over the world.
On Thursday, the 28th of April 2016, iDT Labs, in partnership with Girl Child Network Sierra Leone, GirlUp Vine Club and the Population Council hosted the very first Girls in ICT Day in Sierra Leone at iDT Labs’ Careers Garage workshop. Secondary school female students from Freetown participated in the celebrations. The all-day event included discussions around the digital divide that exists in the country, the unfortunate lack of gender diversity in the still-nascent tech sector of Sierra Leone, and the immense opportunities that are available for girls to pursue a successful career in the sector. The speakers at the event included the Co-Founder and CTO of iDT Labs Salton Massally, the Executive Director of GirlUp Vine Club Yasmin Ibrahim, and representatives from the World Bank, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Welfare.
We at iDT Labs are strong believers in the potential that ICT has for improving the social and economic fortunes of Sierra Leone. Since we ourselves are a young team of developers and designers that has already received numerous laurels for the work that we are doing in the ICT4D space in West Africa, we are always supportive of initiatives which encourage the participation of youth in the tech space. It is important to address the issue of female underrepresentation in the tech sector in Sierra Leone, and we intend to continue organising such workshops as well as to work with organisations that are actively providing more opportunities in tech to young Sierra Leonean girls.