Technology is increasingly shaping our world. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital technologies, affecting everything from where and how we work and live, to tackling the world’s most pressing issues, such as climate change and social injustice. As the sector continues to grow and to affect ever more areas of our lives, we have to recognize that it has implications for gender equality and human rights more broadly, and we need to reflect on the question – where are the women?
Although there is seemingly a tech solution for every life situation, leading to countless people using various technologies in their daily life, the tech sector is woefully homogenous and not representative of the diversity of people that it serves. Only around 26% of tech-related jobs are held by women, and this number actually decreased in recent years, with more women losing their jobs during the pandemic. Only around 4% are women of color. Numerous exposes in recent years have documented an ongoing pay gap, challenges in career progression, and sexual harassment in the workplace in the tech sector. Initiatives like the New Technologies and Information Communication are not just documenting, but also connecting women in the industry, enabling them to share experiences, support and empower each other, and amplify the voices of women in tech overall.
For an industry which champions change in so many ways, the tech world is shockingly behind on gender equality.
This not only affects women and gender equality more broadly, it also affects tech companies and their abilities to meet the needs and interests of diverse populations. Technology has a significant impact on our lives, and it's essential that all members of society not only have access to it but are also able to participate in how it is designed and developed. Women make up half of the global population and bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table that can drive innovation and progress – the essence of what the tech sector is about.
There are numerous examples of women designing and using technology to address social and political issues. For example, Blendoor, founded by Stephanie Lumpkin, a recruiting tool which hides certain characteristics of applicants to tackle unconscious bias. Safe YOU, developed by Mariam Torosyan, a virtual safe space for women to tackle gender based violence. Zidisha, developed by Julia Kurnia, is a microlending service which links individuals with entrepreneurs in the Global South. I too developed a tech tool - a Twitter bot which counters hate speech and promotes tolerance and respect for diversity. The bot makes daily analysis of tweets in the Democratic Republic of Congo and posts statistics showing the percentage of non-violent and violent tweets in order to raise awareness on the creation of positive and non-violent content by using concrete data. Exposing this contributes to reducing conflict and promoting social cohesion.
Evidently it is in the interests of the tech industry to be more actively inclusive of women, to take advantage of the incredibly creative ideas we come up with. This starts with encouraging women to enter the field. Too often women are told, whether explicitly or implicitly, that computer science, technology, engineering and other relevant fields are for men. And women face barriers in entering them. Concerted effort needs to be put into breaking that perception, and women and girls need to be actively encouraged and supported in entering the field.
That being said, we also have to acknowledge that the online space is not always safe for women, and this too needs to be addressed. Cyberbullying, harassment, and stalking are all too common, and women are often targeted simply for speaking out. To combat this, it's essential to create safe spaces where women can express themselves freely without fear of retribution. This includes online communities that are moderated effectively and have clear guidelines for behaviour. It also means holding perpetrators accountable for their actions and ensuring that laws are not only in place to protect women from online abuse, but are also effectively implemented.
International Women's Day, which was marked earlier this week, is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Let’s use this opportunity to celebrate women in tech, and encourage and invest in having more women in the field. This will not only benefit women, but the tech field – which will benefit from broader experience, more diverse and creative ideas - and society as a whole, as more tech solutions will be available to meet their needs and wants, and to tackle pervasive social issues.
Women have a critical role to play in shaping the future of technology. By sharing their stories, advocating for change, and innovating in the field, they can create a more equitable and just world. However, to achieve this, we must address the challenges they face and provide the tools and resources they need to succeed. From creating safe spaces online to investing in women's education and training, there are many opportunities to support women in tech and build a brighter future for all.
Written by Nicole Musimbi (edited by Daina Rudusa).
Nicole Musimbi is Partnership Coordinator at Nobel Women's Initiative. She is a committed peace activist from DRC with insightful expertise on young women’s contributions to conflict prevention and peace-building. Most recently, Nicole co-launched the Youth, Peace and Security Coalition in DRC, which ensured the ownership and leadership of Congolese youth in the development of the country’s first National Action Plan on YPS. Nicole is passionate about creative and innovative approaches to peace-building and activism. More on her background is available here.