Building a Brighter Future with Girls in Technology
“The technology sector is obsolete. Technology is now so entrenched in our lives that we can no longer refer to it as a sector. It has transformed the way we do everything today and is now as essential as knowing how to read. So if we are consuming more technology, we must create more technology jobs. However, only 1 in 4 technology jobs are held by women.” said Bridget Lewis, co-founder of SheLeadsIT, an NGO focused on unlocking economic opportunities for women and girls and the ‘Girls in ICT Day Caribbean Hackathon’ supported by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). During the recently held bmobile Innovation Week, Canada-based Lewis participated in a live question-and-answer session at the end of her 2018 TEDxPortofSpain presentation, ‘Girls Have To Tech It Up To Live It Up’.
TSTT Executive, Rakesh Goswami, underscored the critical need for more women and girls in ICT jobs. “ICT remains a male-dominated field with many of the men having backgrounds in software engineering. Whereas non-technical skills also play an important role, in today’s digital economy, technology will become more embedded in every part of our economy. We need more girls with an ICT education.” He noted that the lower participation rates are often caused by a lack of encouragement, negative peer pressure and too few role models. “At bmobile we aim to help our women and girls to see themselves in a technology role and how they can help to transform Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean into dynamic and innovative economies which can successfully compete at a global scale.”
In her 2018 TEDxPortofSpain presentation ‘Girls Have To Tech It Up To Live It Up’, Lewis identified the need to disrupt the future role of women in technology by beginning with girls. She described what happened when over 600 girls from high schools, colleges and universities in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, participated in the first all-female ‘Girls in ICT Day Caribbean Hackathon’ aimed at creating solutions to problems typically experienced by women and girls. “Our girls from throughout the Caribbean came together to use technology to tackle the issues that are important to them: #homesafe, #streetsafe, #relationshipsafe and #cybersafe, which are the safety of girls and women while at home, using public transportation, in relationships and online, respectively. At the end of just one day, the different school teams created several apps which included QuickAlert for relationship abuse; PlateAlert for taxi transportation and Glam99, an SOS app for women and girls in public spaces. These are some of the amazing things that happen when we create the opportunities for girls to get together in technology. This is a world I want to live in. Do you?”
However, Lewis noted that although 60% of future jobs will have an ICT component according to a 2017 UNESCO paper and approximately 40% of the global labour force are women, only 1 in 4 women have ICT jobs. “As the demand for technology-driven jobs increase, we will see a shortage of jobs for women if more women do not become involved in technology. This will lead to increased levels of unemployment and poverty, a decrease in profits and GDP and an overall negative effect on people.” Lewis also stated that since women make up 50% of the global population, more women need to be a part of the product development and decision-making processes so the solutions that are being designed will better reflect the gender make up of the societies that will use these products and services. She continued “Women are not just underrepresented in the workplace but at every stage of the technology journey. Globally only 3% of girls in university choose ICT and at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, although 70% of the university graduating class is female, only 30% of computer studies graduates are female.”
“These numbers really woke me up. As a Caribbean woman, I would like our Caribbean girls to be bold and brave; to dream big and experience unimaginable prosperity. In 2017, we decided we were going to disrupt the future of women in technology and launched the ‘Girls in ICT Day Caribbean Hackathon’ because we need to start with our girls. We also need to have the support of parents and families, schools and companies where the support for girls in technology is traditionally lacking. The Caribbean Hackathon circumvents these obstacles by requiring the active agreement, support and participation of all these critical support groups.” Lewis’ aim is to achieve an increase in the number of countries and girls participating in the 2019 ‘Girls in ICT Day Caribbean Hackathon’ and in ICT jobs.