Are there opportunities for women in the Information & Communications Technology (ICT) industry? Or is the ICT profession a male affair? ICTs are indispensable tools used by all to deal with the limitations of time, cost & distance? In addition, many are using ICTs to solve problems & create new opportunities.
We live in the age where quality access to information & knowledge is key to survival & performance. Individuals, organizations & governments all need to use ICT to be faster, more cost effective & efficient. ICT is the infrastructure of the knowledge economy.
However, there are various challenges associated with ICTs. Inconsistencies in the exploitation & deployment of ICTs are a major concern – the digital divide. For example, what has been the impact of women in ICT? In many societies, women are still unable to realize their potentials. Goal 3 of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) is to “provide gender equality & empower women.” What’s the role of ICT in the economic & social empowerment of women? Obviously, there’s a direct relationship between the empowerment of women & reduction of poverty. Because of its unique benefits, ICT has been recognized as a tool for empowering men & women. But is this notion grounded in reality? Is ICT hurting or helping women?
Digital Gender Divide?
How empowered are women to make their contributions in society? Women play a vital role in society so can we really create wealth & provide opportunites through ICT if women are digitally excluded? Can women really be empowered without quality access to information? Already, these information & knowledge gaps exist in the emerging knowledge society & the majority of women – rural & urban – don’t appear to be on the right side of the divide.
Let’s face it, ICT is nothing without access. To get the benefits of ICT, you must have access. Availability or physical access isn’t enough. Access – ability to utilize, ability to work, learn, interact & create with the information & resources provided. Fewer women are accessing & using computers & the Internet compared to men. The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, September 2005 publication, “Women 2000 & beyond”, confirms that “Women are a minority of users in almost all developed & developing countries.
ICT for all?
ICT is the key resource of the information society. Without real access to technology, there’s a limit to how & what women can contribute. Access needs to improve – availability & quality. More women, especially in the rural & informal sector, need to use ICT to get things done in their lives & work. The cellphone is a start but ICT goes beyond receiving & making calls. Women must be active ICT participants – users, professionals, creators, producers & entreprenuers. To make a difference, women must engage in productive ICT & ICT-driven activities – usage & production.
ICT isn’t just for ICT professionals. The knowledge revolution demands knowledge professionals, knowledge workers – ICT savvy individuals in virtually all sectors. There’s nothing wrong with ICT consumption if used to enhance efficiency & effectiveness. Or if it gives you advantage in terms of creative options. If we don’t want to go the way of the dinosaur, we all need to use these knowledge tools to get ahead. You can’t solve tomorrow’s problems using yesterday’s tools.
Consume or contribute?
In different fields & professions – commerce, law, medicine, agriculture, accountancy, sports, entertainment, media etc – women can use ICT to enable growth, create wealth, increase productivity & create new opportunities.
Because ICT is so critical to the knowledge economy, you simply can’t function at your best if you don’t understand, adopt & grasp ICT. Are you a driver in the knowledge system? Then you should use ICT to drive your career & business up & your cost & challenges down.
However, while the usage of ICT is important, it’s not just about consumption. The issue isn’t consume or contribute – it’s consume, contribute & create. Any nation that wants to be taken seriously in the global world must have highly skilled human capital that develops, creates & supports technology products & services.
Women in the ICT industry.
How many women are building careers in this interesting & exciting field? Make no mistake, there are women making great strides in ICT. Indeed, we must acknowledge & commend the efforts of women who are contributing immensly in ICT but the issue isn’t that there are no women making a difference in ICT, rather, are there women in sufficient numbers to make a difference? What propotion of women compared to men are active participants in the technology sector? And which areas do they predominate? Where are the majority of women in the ICT value chain? What do women do where they are? Are women in ICT realizing their potentials? Do women in ICT benefit fully from the career & entreprenurial opportunities in ICT?
Of particular interest are specialist areas which include software development, database, web development, network infrastructure, technical support, telecom engineering etc & these areas tend to be well-respected, very creative & rewarding with excellent opportunities for growth.
In this respect, what page are the ICT firms on? Even in organizations with heavy information needs that invest heavily in ICT such as government agencies, banks & oil companies, how many women work as ICT specialists & in what proportion compared to men, in such organizations?
The situation in most ICT & ICT-driven firms is that fewer women work as ICT professionals in the specialist areas mentioned. There are also fewer women at the top, i.e. top-level management positions within the ICT sector as Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Chief Information Officers (CIOs), IT Directors or IT Managers. More women need to be in positions where they can influence ICT management & policy.
Sweat, Stress or Value?
The reality is that most women working in such organizations contribute but tend to predominate in non-technical areas such as customer service, business development, marketing etc & in the technical areas, they work mainly in the routine jobs (lower tech value) working as telephone data entry & desktop publishing operators.
Women in ICT are contributing but the reality is that the majority of women working in ICT aren’t involved in the creative & growth areas of ICT. The work many women do in ICT may be stressful & sweaty resulting in physical & mental burnout but how critical or creative is such work compared to other opportunities in the sector? Typically, what are the prospects? For growth? How challenging are such opportunities? As noted earlier, there are much fewer women compared to men in the areas of control & decision making in ICT.
Yona Fares Maro,
I.T. Specialist & Digital Security Consultant,
Dar Es Salaam,