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Despite Limited Funding, Nigerian Women are Bridging the Gender Gap in Tech Ecosystem

By Ijeoma Okereke-Adagba

The outbreak of the coronavirus inspired societal changes across the globe. As government lockdowns ended in-person engagements and restricted large gatherings, people and organisations sought alternative ways to continue operations, spurring a digital transformation with a massive shift to digital delivery of services — remote work, virtual learning, as well as a window of opportunities in tech.

Stephanie Adejo, lost her job after her firm downsized to cut costs in May 2020 and months later, her tech journey started. “After I was laid off, I was frustrated for months. I literally fell sick. Then my friend introduced me to Data Analysis during the lockdown,” she said. Today, she earns three times the pay in her previous role as an Administrative Officer.

Despite being “fulfilling and financially rewarding”, Stephanie says there is a gender gap in Nigeria’s tech industry. “There are just a few of us (women) in the system. It is practically dominated by men, as you will notice in many workspaces,” she said.

There are not as many women as men in Nigeria’s rapidly growing tech ecosystem. According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), women make up only 22% of the country’s total number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) university graduates and not all of their transition into tech.

According to the African academy of sciences, multiple factors contribute to the existing inequalities and underrepresentation of women in STEM from policy to institutional barriers to individual factors. Out of the 396 respondents they surveyed, 61.1% of women’s personal capabilities influenced them to take up a STEM career, 26% were influenced by their parents, academic preparation 26% and women role models (24%) contributed to the choice’s women make to pursue STEM-related careers. In comparison, 76% of women were attracted to a STEM career because it fit their capability. The need for higher salaries (16.5%) or job security (24.2%) did not seem to feature as the main attractions of STEM. However, there were qualitative views suggesting remuneration in terms of financial benefits as one reason why they were motivated to pursue STEM courses.

For instance, there were only five females in Onoriode Dafetah’s industrial engineering class at the University of Benin. Today, she is a frontend and power platform developer at Reliance Infosystems — the only female in tech from her university class.

“I think it is more about passion than the course you study,” she says.

Women have been described as an integral part of the global tech ecosystem; but are constantly excluded by a myriad of factors including cultural barriers, scarce digital skills, lack of internet access and the male-dominated workspaces. Much of this has also been linked to low funding for women in the tech sector.

Between 2013 and 2021, African tech startups received $12.6 billion in funding, but women-led firms accounted for less than 5% of this, against the 82% cooped by their male counterparts.

Shola Akinpelu, the co-founder of HerVest, revealed that women are also subjected to underpaid roles within the tech ecosystem. Shola, whose firm provides financial inclusion for women, said the global tech industry loses about $160 trillion annually to this disparity. She noted that measures had been put in place to improve access for Nigerian women in tech, but said this was set back by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Before covid, we were at 102 years in closing the total gender gap but now it stands at 136 years,” Shola told participants at a digital conference in Lagos.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Nigeria 139th out of 156 countries in its 2021 Global Gender Gap Report released in March, dropping 11 places from its position in 2020. The report said only 67.2% of the overall gender gap in sub-Saharan Africa has been closed, leaving a deficit of 32.7%. It noted that at such a slow pace, it will take 121.7 years to close the gender gap.

Out of the 35 countries in the sub-region, Nigeria was ranked just above Chad (148), Mali (149) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (151). With Nigeria’s gender gap index at 62.7%, only 49.3% of women are in the workplace. To add to that, income disparity has widened. Today a Nigerian woman’s income is 58.4% of that of a man. Nigeria has only achieved 4.7% of the political empowerment Gender Gap since there are very few women in leadership roles and the country has never had a female president. Women are few in senior positions with only 30% of managers and with only 13.9% of firms with women leaders. Nigeria’s education subindex is at 80.6% however, the country ranks 146 out of 152 countries showing that they are far from closing the education attainment subindex.

Against this backdrop, Nigerian women are rising above barriers in the tech space.

Temitope Omotolani’s FarmCrowdy is digitising Nigeria’s agricultural sector, improving food security while helping investors and farmers across the country gain revenue. She is also the co-founder of Crowdyvest, a platform that has raised over $35 million through savings and investment for multiple businesses.

The only Nigerian woman on the 2019 edition of the Forbes 30 Under 30, Tito Ovia is passionate about improving the quality of healthcare in Africa with Helium Health, a healthcare platform used by over 5,000 doctors and 500,000 patients across West Africa. Secure ID founded by Kofo Akinkugbe is a market leader in smart card technology and digital security, fully verified by VISA, Verve and MasterCard. It also owns the only smart card production plant in West Africa.

Dana Kohut, the founder of The Prime View, noted in Forbes, 2022 that very few women become ‘newsmakers’ in the field of technology and journalism. Women working for technology companies and startups lack visibility and representation in the media whether it’s print, online or television. According to the Global Media Monitoring report 2021, only 25% of women are news subjects in different story topics such as print, television and radio news in science, technology, research, funding, discoveries and development. Key findings from the report show that 19 % of topics speak about gender equality in the African region which is highest compared to Asia and the Middle East at 1%.

From Moyinoluwa Adeyemi, a software engineer at Twitter, to Dr Funmi Adeware of MobiHealth, Tope Omotolani of FarmCrowdy, Keturah Ovio of Limestart and Bamboo’s Yanmo Omorogbe, these Nigerian women are changing the status quo and inspiring other women to succeed in tech.

Numerous initiatives are also improving access to opportunities for women within the tech ecosystem, including skills training, mentorship and job placements.

Over 1,000 women were trained on digital skills in 2021 by Ingressive for Good. Another 1,000 women will participate in this year’s edition, as they aim to gain placements in the region’s fast-rising tech industry.

“We want to empower women with the skills they need, so they can confidently take up roles in tech. It’s not a one-time activity, it is something to which we are committed,” Blessing Abeng, co-founder of Ingressive for Good, said.

In 2021, over 1,820 women and girls in Lagos were trained in technology programmes by the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC). The centre had previously trained female participants in Nasarawa, Bauchi and Abuja, during the pandemic. They were trained on electronics and renewable energy panel projects. Likewise, hundreds of girls and women in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, have benefited from the annual all-female tech skills workshop, organised by the Roothub, a tech and innovation lab. Participants learn graphics design, UI/UX, content writing and coding.

Another initiative, TechHer facilitates the economic and political empowerment of women through technology and information access. It provides a community and opportunities to help women create new connections, network to learn from others and explore careers in tech.

On its part, the Nigerian Government has also expressed commitment to providing women with the necessary skills and tools to participate in the digital economy in line with the National ICT Policy and the Digital Economy Policy and Strategy. This is in line with section 7.4.3 (x) of the ICT policy which seeks to promote ICT awareness and proficiency in mass and non-formal education, especially for women, children, youth and the physically challenged.

Between 2019 and 2022, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) organised specialised training for 100 women and girls in each of the six geopolitical zones, with the aim of closing the gender digital divide, promoting job creation, and financial inclusion.

“Toward the realisation of these objectives, NITDA in our efforts at assessing and addressing ICT skills requirements, will support sustainable economic growth, development strides, and develop this unique training programme targeting women,” Hadiza Umar, NITDA Head of Corporate Affairs, said.

The most recent of these training was a 4-day capacity building organised in January 2022, for 60 Women on ICT Technopreneurship in Dutse, Jigawa State, Northwest Nigeria.

As these initiatives and many more strive to create opportunities for women in the tech sector, there have been calls for more female-focused activities and awareness of the importance of computer literacy and acquiring tech skills by more women in society.

“We need to spread the word and educate more women on the numerous opportunities in tech; not just adults but young girls. We need to catch them young and have more girls involved in tech,” said Stephanie.

To close the gender gap in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem, Onoriode believes women need to own and hone their crafts, despite challenges or perceived male dominance in tech workspaces. Nevertheless, despite the small gains in technology that women are celebrating, a lot has to be done on the corporate ladder most and most especially for women of colour.

“No matter your gender, put in the work. Users hardly know the gender of the developer of a website,” she said.

This story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData initiative and the World Association for Christian Communication.

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