Making waves: ‘ripple effect’ project Ammal upskills women globally through support and collaboration

Picture courtesy: Catherine Bridgeman

It’s estimated that the U.K.’s gender pay gap, currently standing at 9.4%, won’t end until 2069 — 99 years after the Equal Pay Act was first introduced.

In 2016, Deloitte revealed that this disparity is down to a lack of women pursuing careers in the STEM sectors (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). With an expected surge of jobs in tech, particularly, this puts women at a serious earning disadvantage.

While a gender skills gap certainly exists, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room — there are several other reasons why women might be hesitant to pursue a career in tech. Last week’s nauseating report on UploadVR’s treatment of female employees is enough to put anyone off, regardless of a higher pay package.

Sadly, these reports aren’t anomalous. A recent US study found that one in ten women working in tech experience unwanted sexual attention, and nearly one in four people of colour face stereotyping. So, you can hardly blame women, and women in colour in particular, for believing that tech might not be the best sector for them.

The lack of gender diversity in tech presents three big issues: discrimination, unappealing workplaces and a lack of safe learning environments.

At Chayn, we believe in equal opportunities and ending workplace discrimination. This is where Ammal, a digital skills sharing network, providing free classes for self-identifying women, was born. Launched with the following plan, Ammal promised to: “create an open and collaborative network of women who support and empower each other by passing on the skills they have and the skills they’ve learned to other women.”

Chayn is a D-I-Y, tech for good charity, formed by founder Hera Hussain when she realised the lack of resources available to women in abusive relationships. Ammal came from a similar attitude of ‘if it’s not yet available, create it’. Meaning action and hope in Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, Ammal hopes to incite these very values and emotions in its attendees, encouraging attendees to pass skills gained onto other women in their life, upskilling via a ripple effect.

Talking about how she first got the idea to set up Ammal, Chayn volunteer, Jessica Morley shared: “We set up Ammal because we noticed that there was a real need to increase the representation of women in tech, but very often women lacked confidence in their tech skills or didn’t know how to access relevant education.”

She added, “This was particularly true of women who wouldn’t necessarily have access to formal education routes. Ammal was set up to fill these gaps.”

With courses covering topics like logo design, personal branding, the freelance hustle and careers sessions on improving employability, Ammal was launched in 2015.

The pilot was funded by UnLtd, providing sessions to 16–30 year olds in Tower Hamlets, London. Following the first session on “How to get Hired”, the feedback received was extremely positive. While 100% of attendees said that they will pass on skills gained to other women they know, a staggering 92% said that they would recommended Ammal to a friend.

The ripple effect had begun.

Garance Mourgaud, who attended the ‘How to get Hired’ workshop and thereafter became a Chayn volunteer herself, found in Ammal, a safe and supportive environment she hadn’t previously experienced:

“Some young women can have a tendency to compete and fight each other instead of supporting one another. Ammal aims to empower young women through knowledge sharing and network support.” Garance shared “This workshop gave me basic yet strong skills and tools to keep teaching myself, and above all, gave me the confidence to keep trying.”

Picture courtesy: Catherine Bridgeman

Ammal organiser, Afsa Akbar agreed that it’s this supportive environment that makes Ammal unique:

“One of our attendees on a recent Wordpress for beginners course had been wanting to learn how to use Wordpress for a while but had found the online courses unhelpful. She wasn’t confident in learning digital skills and wanted someone to show her how to use it, face to face. Attending Ammal and having female organisers take her through it, step-by-step, gave her the confidence to be able to build her own website and apply this valuable skill in her own work.”

In November 2016, following the success of the U.K. branch, the next chapter of Ammal was born, with a bootcamp of four workshops held in Lahore, Pakistan. Female attendees were provided with a crash course on career planning, professional development, CV writing, interview training, and basic digital skills that improve employability.

Following the Lahore workshop, many of the attendees volunteered to speak at future bootcamps. However, like the London chapter, Ammal is now working to set these offers in stone, working with MakeSense to figure out how to incentivise attendees to continue passing on their skills gained, with the aim of scaling the initiatives so that they can be replicated nationally, and globally.

Ammal is certainly living out its name and we at Chayn are very hopeful that we will be able to deliver workshops through this project in order to upskill women globally.

With women supporting one another, Ammal founder Jessica believes these bold plans are certainly possible:

“The main lesson I’ve learned from Ammal is how important it is for women to support women. It’s incredibly important and incredibly powerful.”

This blog post was written by Chayn volunteer, Olivia Jardine. You can reach Olivia on twitter @olivia_jardine.