Despite the great strides that have been made to create gender equality in the workplace, imbalances in many industries still persist, particularly in developing nations. However, the ongoing advances in technology provide what is probably the most powerful tool in history to address these imbalances and provide women with opportunities to close the labour inequality gap.
It’s the 21st Century, and women still have less access to education than men
A recent World Bank survey in 34 African countries confirmed that women are lagging behind men in terms of access to education, with only 40% of those attaining a post-school qualification being female.
In the past, the inability to acquire a tertiary qualification would mean a bleaker employment outlook for the rest of one’s life, but technology provides the means to close the gap at any life stage.
Technology is a gender equality enabler
Technology provides opportunities to change gender work imbalances in a number of ways. The first is the lowering of barriers to entry. Surveys show that the gender gap in terms of education on the continent has been shrinking very slowly over the last few years, but this can be changed through access to the Internet.
As the Internet becomes increasingly available with the proliferation of smart devices, people are able to upskill themselves, regardless of previous qualifications.
This is important in the world of tech, where job requirements change so quickly that hardly any of the world’s top practitioners are using their qualifications to perform their work.
Tech industry does not suffer from inherent structural inequality
Being a modern industry, the tech world also does not suffer from the structural inequality we see in some other fields. In many other industries, one sometimes sees protectionism of particularly older men’s positions, but tech is a modern industry.
Its leaders should keep this in mind at all times and be dedicated to a balanced workplace. In the developed world, a larger proportion of the top networking engineers across the globe are women. This trend is starting to take hold in a number of African countries as well.
Addressing cultural factors perpetuating gender inequality
When I attended an IPv6 training session in Tunisia, which is aimed at fairly advanced engineers, 95% of those who attended were females. However, I have been to a number of similar conferences in South Africa, and women are hardly ever represented. One therefore may also need to address cultural concerns that might keep women out of the industry.
Currently, when we advertise a job opening, the vast majority of applicants are male, so it is not necessarily the employers who are making that choice. I believe most employers would be happy to employ a more diversified workforce.
In order to change the status quo, one would have to look at all the reasons why women are not qualifying themselves as tech engineers in the numbers we would like to see. These could include cultural, political, financial, perception, and many other factors.
A change is needed, and is coming
To address these issues, we believe that a good place to start is for the brilliant women in the industry to become increasingly heard, in order to create role models. I started out in the industry through role models and looking up to people for guidance. As a child, I could relate to older men in the industry, and the same can be true for young women. We are already seeing some work being done in this regard, but more can be done.
Lately, I have seen a massive drive on the coding front, and there are a lot more women entering the coding space, but there is some scope for development on the network and engineering side. In South Africa, I would presume that less than 1% of engineers in senior positions are women. The rest are all men, which is pathetic.
Role models that the youth identify with let them know that there is a path for them in that field. They would ask themselves whether they would feel comfortable doing a particular job, or out of place. The problem needs to be looked at holistically, as it stems from the very beginning. The pipeline is not so much broken as it is non-existent.
It stands to reason that those women who overcame gender equality in order to become successful advanced engineers would not allow the same inequalities to exist in their family should they choose to have one.