The lack of information and communication technology (ICT) skills in the workforce in Nigeria is becoming an industry concern. It is estimated that 90 percent of jobs will soon require ICT skills. Unfortunately, fewer women are likely to be gainfully employed in these ICT-focused jobs of the future. An ITU report revealed that fewer than 25% of ICT roles were held by women in 2015. These statistics have not improved significantly in recent years.
The cultural stereotype that portrays ICT skills as the exclusive reserve of male “geeks who wear glasses” is a contributing factor. Such gendered stereotypes can be a barrier to the advancing the gender equality initiatives laid out in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #5 (SDG5).
Campaigning for girls to find the right footing in an industry dominated by men can be viewed as a herculean task, but efforts to make the campaign for Gender Equality more sustainable and purpose-driven paves the way to an exciting future.
One such effort was Youth For Technology Foundation’s (YTF) recent event in Abuja in celebration of Girls in ICT Day. The event centered around opportunities for girls in space technology, a topic rarely discussed in schools and the media. To many girls, a career in space is the domain of males with genius level intellect like those stereotypical nerds they see portrayed in Hollywood movies and in the mainstream media.
The choice of 4 women out of 5 keynote speakers is part of YTF’s ongoing mission to create and sustain an environment for leading women in ICT to mentor schoolgirls. This mentorship approach has been a successful strategy in the campaign to bridge the gender gap and help achieve SDG5.
The speakers encouraged girls to pursue careers in ICT and explained the importance of ICT skills in their fields. When one student, Ekemini Ditta from Community Christian School, exclaimed, “I am not there yet!” the speaker quickly responded, “STEM will take you there!” This exchange demonstrated how enthusiastic the girls were about the message. They could not hold back their excitement. They asked genuine, probing questions and sought continued mentorship resources for possible future careers in ICT.
Speakers included Engr. Iroka Chidinma Joy of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA); Engr. Felicia Nnenna Agubata of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA); Mr Temidayo Isaiah Oniosun of iSpatial Technologies and other industry players.
The event also featured hands-on demo sessions and video presentations of emerging technologies such as 3D printed a human face, an unmanned US naval drone warship, and an autonomous shopping cart developed by China e-commerce Giant JD.
The highlight of the event was when students were called upon to discuss their dream careers. 80% of attendees made a new commitment to acquire ICT skills! Before the sessions began, only 30% expressed a desire to acquire ICT skills.
The success of the 2018 Girls In ICT Day event further validates the innovative approaches that YTF continues to adopt in its campaign for to support gender equality in Nigeria. YTF recognizes that early career mentorship for girls is important and that breaking down the stereotypes and cultural biases that discourage girls from pursuing ICT skills must start early.