These days when I introduce myself to people, I always add that I am a tech enthusiast and people often ask why that is important to my introduction. The reason is that I believe that technological ideas will drastically improve human relations and make life so much easier to live in the nearest future.
However, I am not a fanatic. I know for a fact that there are numerous challenges facing the Nigerian technology scene mainly in the way that it is being developed and that is the main reason why I am a tech enthusiast – to take on those challenges. It is 2019 and our technology stack both hardware and software are still mainly imported.
I could actually write a whole book about the problems facing the development of technology in Nigeria like training opportunities, infrastructure, our educational system, our leaders, etc, but that will just be listing stuff that you already know. Maybe I will do that as another article.
Here I am more concerned about how the Nigerian society has metamorphosed to assign tech roles to males in the workplace while Nigerian women have continued to struggle to find their place. If anything, this whole charade is everything but splendiferous.
To see what I am talking about, visit any Nigerian Federal University of Technology; and calculate for yourself the ratio of male students to female students. From my own research from visiting about 5 Federal Universities of Technology; the ratio of males to females is about 9 to 1. The obvious question is if this ratio is bad and if so, whose fault is it. Do we fault the guys attending these schools, the educational system or the girls for not applying these schools?
I once asked a friend if it is allowed to fault Nigerian women for not taking up more tech opportunities, and she almost took my head home as a souvenir. I try not to point fingers because solutions are plentiful, and it makes more sense to focus on the solutions instead of the problems.
My question is quite simple though – how do we get more Nigerian women and girls into tech? Currently, there are a lot of tech training and initiatives focused on the girl-child but I wonder if they are enough to turn the tide.
When I think of this problem, I always start from the home and the role of culture and tradition in the upbringing process of the girl-child. Till-date when you mention girls and tech in the same sentence some eyebrows are raised as though you are trying to cause a commotion. This is especially the case for older Nigerians who think tech is hard enough for women to do while guys are wired to do the hard things in life – for them, women should focus on learning the tips and tricks of homemaking. To add salt to injury, it is actually this older generation of Nigerians that are in charge of the corporations and organizations that hire these tech roles.
On the one hand, I have come to the conclusion that nobody will fight this fight more than women themselves. On the other hand, knowing where to start is the main issue. I have had many of my female peers walk up to me and ask how they could get started in the Nigerian tech terrain that is still very dominated by males. Sometimes I try to give my two cents but most times I refer them to the internet or a mentor when I don’t have the answers. I haven’t given up though, I am still working on a concrete response for the next person that will ask me the same question.
What I have seen in recent times, however, is an influx of women into the design side of things in the tech world. Of course, it is no surprise that males still dominate this area but maybe it is a good start that girls are finding this area interesting. In my experience though, whenever I have presented two courses to girls one in graphics design and the other in programming, they’ve usually opted for the design course for reasons that I am yet to explore.
I posed a question earlier of how to get more women into more tech roles, but before answering this question how do we first reconcile this issue of interest on the part of women and girls? Are women and girls ready to lead the charge and make their mark in the world of tech? Will more Nigerian women stick it out with the “bros” and become top programmers and engineers despite the societal pressure to give up?
I would like to hear from you, but I believe one solution is to create learning environments where girls can work with other girls in building their tech capabilities.
Another solution is to stop the stigma that any girl who loves tech so much is abnormal because they are not.
One might ask though why we need Nigerian girls in tech. For one, there needs to be a level playing field for everyone who is interested in pursuing a tech career and that does not exist now at all. Secondly, there is the issue of perspective. Tech products are built for everyone, and quite a lot could be lost in translation if there are no females behind the development stages.
I conclude here by restating that I have no answers to these problems. However, as someone who likes problem-solving, I would suggest a bottom-top approach. This will involve starting from the root of the problem like dismantling traditional stereotypes and stigma before taking the appropriate steps to set up infrastructures where girls and women can thrive. Today, more than ever there is nothing more important than creating balanced environments where ideas are varied and perspectives are plentiful. Bringing Nigerian women and girls into the picture makes this possible.