15th May, 2014
By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Without doubt, the Information and Communication Technology, ICT, sector remains a fast growing area with limitless possibilities for national and international development. Today, the sector offers enormous empowerment opportunities to diverse people across the globe. It is, however, sad to note that despite the boundless opportunities it presents, fewer girls and young women are actually getting involved in the sector. The erroneous notion that the ICT sector is mainly male enterprise still holds sway in many nations of the world. Research has shown that males dominate most highly rated jobs in the sector. On the average, the research illustrates that women account for 30 per cent of IT operations technicians, a mere 15 per cent of ICT managers and only 11 per cent of IT strategy and planning professionals.
It is in order to correct this seeming imbalance and with a view to encouraging more girls to take up careers in the sector that the International Girls in ICT Day is celebrated world-wide every April. An initiative backed by the International Telecommunication Union, ITU, the ‘Girls in ICT Day’ programme is meant to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in the growing field of ICT. With the number of school girls opting to study technology-related disciplines on the decline in most countries worldwide, the ‘Girls in ICT Day’ initiative is, no doubt, a laudable project as it would help inspire more girls to consider a future in Information Technology. Currently, there is a shortage of some 2 million IT professionals in the world. Therefore, encouraging more girls to take interest in ICT, through training and skills development can help deal with that deficit.
According to experts, there would be two million more ICT jobs available than ICT professionals all over the world in the next decades. In order to ensure that more girls take hold of the platform, we need to empower our school girls and young women alongside the young men to take up such job opportunities that ICT is creating. There is need for women to take up careers in ICT and this objective could only be accomplished if girls are encouraged to pursue courses in ICT. ICT offers great job opportunities for empowerment and such we need to do everything possible to motivate girls and young women to pursue careers in ICT.
There are convincing economic factors for engaging women more significantly in the ICT sector. For one, every initiative that could help in reducing the male-female employment gap is good for economic growth. In Europe, for instance, research has shown that the bridging of the male-female employment gap has been a key factor for socio-economic growth in the last decade. Similarly, in the Asia and Pacific region, limiting job opportunities for women is costing them over $46 billion annually. In the Arab world, a World Bank research has equally revealed that the gender gap in economic prospect remains huge. A recent research from the World Economic Forum, WEF, indicates that countries that have successfully bridged employment gap between males and females, offer better prospects than those that do not.
In Nigeria, there is limited information on the level of girls’ involvement in ICT. But the fact that the field is still a growing one in the country is enough for one to reach a conclusion that the sector is still a virgin one for girls. Now that the rate of unemployment in the country has become rather critical it is the time for governments and other stakeholders to devise strategies that could attract more girls and, indeed, boys into the sector. To this end, governments need to place a premium on promoting ICT skills in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. The curricula need to reinforce each other at different levels, from computer camps for pre-high school or secondary school students, to ICT classes for high school students right through to mentoring and sponsoring. This needs to be complemented by investment in vocational training. In same vein, governments across all levels need also to invest in on-the-job and industry-based training initiatives with a focus on promoting advanced ICT skills. This could be done in partnership with the private sector.
In order to bring about a significant increase in girls’ and women’s engagement and employment across the board in the ICT sector, schools need to ensure that students are aware of the frequently developing nature of the knowledge economy and that learning does not stop once basic education is completed. Equally, public and private organisations need to offer a more mutual workplace experience that constructively engages workers through the provision of opportunities that ensure constant training and re-training programmes.
It is equally important that parents, teachers, career guidance counsellors and employers effect a shift in their mindsets to acknowledge that ICT careers are an important and viable opportunity for girls. Perhaps more importantly, women who are already successful in the sector need to mentor girls and young women. They could do this by organizing seminars and other programmes that could enhance the popularity and acceptability of the sector among girls and young women. It is in doing this that gains made so far in the sector could be effectively secured.
As a government that is passionate about empowerment, the Lagos state government is leaving nothing to chance in its drive to ensure that more girls and, indeed, youths across the state get involved in ICT related activities. To this end, the state government established a ‘Digital Village’ at Alausa, Ikeja as well as a e-Learning Centre at CMS, Lagos Island, where girls and others could become more ICT compliant. Also, there is a Ministry of Science and Technology, at the Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja, which handles all ICT related matters on behalf of the state government. Indeed, every ministry in the state has an ICT unit that coordinates all ICT related issues, including training of staff across gender.
Similarly, the state government and global Information Technology (IT) firm, Oracle Corporation recently unveiled a project that takes the government’s e-Governance initiatives to another level. It is a three-fold human capacity initiative which include Lagos State Oracle University for the employees of the state, Oracle Workforce Development Programme for fresh graduates of universities/polytechnics and the Oracle Academy for universities, tertiary institutions and selected secondary schools in the state.
On a final note, we need to encourage more girls to take to careers in ICT. It would help solve lots of socio problems. For this to become a reality, all stakeholders need to come together to devise useful strategies that could galvanize the interests of more girls in ICT.
•Ogunbiyi works with Ministry of Information & Strategy, The Secretariat , Alausa-Ikeja