Africa needs more young women in tech - here's why

Women with tech skills are key to Africa's abil­ity to thrive in the dig­i­tal econ­omy.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - Sthe Sha­bangu is Lead, Pub­lic Re­la­tions, Pub­lic Af­fairs and Cor­po­rate Cit­i­zen­ship, Sam­sung Africa Of­fice

As women, we are no strangers to the stereo­types that sur­round our of­ten more de­tailed ap­proach to get­ting tasks done. Too pedan­tic. Too fussy. We have heard them all.

But the truth is there is noth­ing wrong with want­ing to get things right. In fact, across in­dus­tries com­pa­nies are start­ing to wake up to the unique value which women bring to the work­place.

ICT, in par­tic­u­lar, is an in­dus­try where fas­tid­i­ous­ness is an in­valu­able as­set.

Yet, while in many ways women are a per­fect fit for the ICT pro­fes­sion, tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing are fields which re­main dom­i­nated by men. Ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum (WEF) Global Gen­der Gap Re­port, women are still strongly un­der-rep­re­sented in en­gi­neer­ing and ICT.

We know that in Africa specif­i­cally, the chal­lenge in grow­ing these skills starts much ear­lier, with more boys than girls en­rolled in pri­mary school in at least one third of African coun­tries ac­cord­ing to UNESCO. In fact, in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, girls who do go to school can typ­i­cally ex­pect as lit­tle as five years of ed­u­ca­tion.

This is a tragedy - not only be­cause our fail­ure to prop­erly ed­u­cate young girls is di­rectly con­tribut­ing to high un­em­ploy­ment rates among women - but also be­cause our con­ti­nent is miss­ing out on the bril­liant young fe­male minds who are needed to take Africa for­ward into the dig­i­tal econ­omy.

Bridg­ing the di­vide

This a ma­jor part of the rea­son why Sam­sung has thrown its weight be­hind ini­tia­tives like its Fe­male Pro­fes­sional Elec­tron­ics Body in Ghana. In part­ner­ing with or­gan­i­sa­tions like GIZ and KIOCA, we hope to up­skill women in tech­ni­cal and elec­tronic skills so that they can more ef­fec­tively com­pete with their male coun­ter­parts.

And be­yond our ed­u­ca­tional goals for a pro­gramme like this, is our hope to start chang­ing per­cep­tions around women in ICT and en­gi­neer­ing. As play­ers in the ICT space, it's our re­spon­si­bil­ity to help break down the bar­ri­ers which pre­clude young women from em­bark­ing on ca­reers in elec­tron­ics. Young women like Kate Amarh who spent two months at Sam­sung's Fe­male Academy Project learn­ing about our var­i­ous prod­ucts.

Kate says ini­tially, her mother was dis­ap­pointed when she learnt her daugh­ter would be en­rolling at the Sam­sung Academy. In­stead, she wanted Kate to fol­low in her foot­steps and be­come a nurse. It took some con­vinc­ing, but even­tu­ally Kate's mother be­came her big­gest sup­porter.

Through her ex­pe­ri­ence with the pro­gramme, Kate says not only has her con­fi­dence been boosted, but she has also gained in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence with Sam­sung which will serve her well when ap­ply­ing for a po­si­tion in the elec­tron­ics en­vi­ron­ment.

Mak­ing a big­ger im­pact

The Academy also opened doors for Com­fort Pokua, who feels she now has the skills to one day man­age her own com­pany. Com­fort was raised by her grand­mother af­ter her par­ents passed away, and as a re­sult didn't have the funds for sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. But af­ter time spent with the pro­gramme learn­ing about cus­tomer ser­vice, as well as how to in­stall and re­assem­ble Sam­sung prod­ucts, she now feels she has the skills to achieve her ca­reer goals in en­gi­neer­ing and tech­nol­ogy.

In South Africa, Sam­sung's En­gi­neer­ing Academy has given Khen­sani Man­ganyi, not only re­newed hope to em­bark on a de­gree in elec­tron­ics, but also to make use of her hard­earned skills to make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of oth­ers.

With­out the op­por­tu­nity to study with Sam­sung, Khen­sani feels she might never have had the op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue higher ed­u­ca­tion, or even to find the means just to care for her­self and her fam­ily. Now she has a dream for the fu­ture, she says.

At the end of the day, we can't af­ford to think small when it comes to tack­ling the chal­lenge which sur­rounds gen­der dis­par­ity in en­gi­neer­ing and ICT.

It is true that in equip­ping young African women with tech­nol­ogy and STEM skills we can play an im­por­tant part in help­ing to grow ca­reers, but the el­e­va­tion of women on our con­ti­nent is about more than just in­di­vid­u­als – it is about our col­lec­tive readi­ness to grasp hold of an African fu­ture of in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Sthe Sha­bangu

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