What do Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, Rancard Solutions and DreamOval Ltd have in common? From small local firms to multinationals, from the old to the young, and from international to local; each and every one of these tech firms was started by men. To this day it’s surprising and somewhat disturbing that women seem to have been largely left out in the leadership of the world’s technology revolution. Only a small percentage of technology startups worldwide are led by women, and here in Africa ICT education seems to be more attractive to men than women. Why is this and what can be done? We examine some potential causes..
Ask anyone to think of a ‘typical’ computer programmer or software engineer and nine times out of ten the image the person will come up with is that of a male. Too often you’ll hear a majority of women themselves talking about how interest in technology is particular to men. However, it is exactly this sort of stereotyping that limits women’s participation and interest in technology fields. So long as a perception of technology and software development as a ‘male-interest field’ persists, we will see a continued lack of strong desire/interest by women to involve themselves in the technology industry and take leading roles in it.
Education & Training
In the area of education & training the same local barriers that limit men have limited our women as well. A general failure and dearth of ICT education in our primary and second-cycle institutions results in many of our youth taking their very first ICT training or awareness courses during or after their education at tertiary institutions. This ICT training is often not even a required part of tertiary curricula, meaning ICT training is obtained as a matter of individual discretion. Tying in to the first point, this severely limits the gender balance of IT professionals as only those with an already established interest in IT would pursue studying such courses.
The ‘Glass Ceiling’
The ‘glass ceiling’ has been a much debated and discussed problem when considering opportunities for women generally in the workplace, some still insist that it is difficult for women to be taken seriously as ‘top managers’. It is in fact true that the majority of established technology firms in Ghana are led by men (with some notable exceptions), whether this is a result of a ‘glass ceiling’ or is a completely unintentional incident can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.
The picture of women in tech fields is not completely gloomy. IBM, after a hundred years of male leadership, appointed its first female CEO in October 2011and a woman is at the heart of Facebook’s business success and soaring value (Sheryl Sandberg, COO – formerly of Google). Locally we have bright examples such as Estelle Akofio-Sowah, Country Lead for Google Ghana and Dorothy Gordon, Director-General of the Advanced Information Technology Institute at the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence (AITI-KACE). Last week’s article spoke of mobile application development and it is remarkable that two of the app finalists at the Mobile Premier Awards, Mafuta Go and Moraba were created by female software developers from Uganda and South Africa. It is to be hoped that young Ghanaian ladies can look up to these women as examples and proof that the tech world is certainly not reserved for men. If anything, these examples show that women can, and should, take leading positions in the technology revolution in Africa and the world at large.Terence Adjei-Otchwemah Executive, Product Marketing and Media Relations DreamOval Limited