UNESCO statistics throw into focus the huge gap between women and men in exploring careers in STEM
The UN Office for South-South Cooperation concluded a three-day workshop in South Africa this month, with the aim to optimize opportunities for African women in the technology sector through enhanced professional capacity and mentorship and by leveraging the power of South-South cooperation.
Studies show that women in the tech industry constitute only 28% of professionals in the sector worldwide, and just 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa. These UNESCO statistics throw into light the huge gap between women and men in exploring careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively known as STEM.
In a bid to build a more gender balanced society where women are provided with the same opportunities and resources to excel as their male counterparts, the workshop proceedings and discussions gathered detailed information on the experiences of women in the tech sector and their recommendations on the areas in need of support and intervention.
The need for a wholesome support system connecting not only women in tech, but also a wider ‘Women in STEM’ network of professionals was highlighted; as well as the need for more mentorship and networking capabilities.
Tumi Meyatswe, former Ecosystem Manager at The Silicon Cape Initiative and Founder of Minderz, a digital pet service, stated it was time to move on from the ‘trend’ of providing black women with opportunities in order to fill quotas or as PR stunts, as opposed to humanizing the processes and removing gender bias altogether.
“The disparity between African sub-regions on the representation of women in STEM requires that the more advanced Southern and Eastern regions support others that have not yet developed the necessary infrastructure to promote more women in this sector. Any such intra-Africa South-South Cooperation would yield much better results if it is combined with wider South-South and Triangular Cooperation initiatives,” said UNOSSC-Africa Regional Chief Francois Ekoko.
Ms.Litha Musyimi-Ogana, Special Advisor to the President of the Pan African Parliament, expressed the necessity to replicate success stories and upscale initiatives giving women a level playing field and equipping them with the necessary resources to excel in their careers: “If it works, replicate and upscale it.”
Ms. Irene Tamajong, a renowned gender and STEM expert, also former Director of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in the UK, provided the link between the tech sector and the wider Women in Science agenda.
UNDP Africa gender programme specialist, Viviane Ralimanga, also pointed out that the role of networking, platforms, and workshops is to connect private sector needs with research.
The expected outcome of this initiative is to enhance the coordination of the different women-led tech initiatives and networks across the continent through a wholesome platform including a professional mentorship and exchange component, as lack of mentors and/or role models for women in the technology sector has been identified as one of the barriers to their progress and growth.
A committee coordinated by the UNOSSC Africa office will directly participate in the design of the platform and map the way forward. Beyond this initial workshop, there will be further consultative and collaborative meetings to further develop the platform.
Photo: UNDP Zambia