Bridging the gender gap in the tech space




The telecommunications industry in Kenya has witnessed remarkable advancements over the years, largely propelled by continuous innovation within the sector and substantial investment by the Government. The expansion of broadband connectivity and the emergence of high-speed internet technologies such as 5G networks have further solidified the industry’s transformation, setting the stage for a fully functional digital future.

During the 13th edition of the Connected Summit held early this year, Eliud Owalo, the CS in the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, emphasized the ongoing digital transformation journey, noting that the fourth industrial revolution is digitally inspired. Yet, amid this transformative journey, a critical issue still persists – the underrepresentation of women in the technological space.

Despite the significant role women play in driving the country’s economy, there remains a gender gap in the tech sector, particularly in leadership positions. This underrepresentation has far-reaching consequences, not only for women but also for the overall growth and development of the Kenyan economy. The disparity hinders the development of products and services that effectively meet the needs of a diverse market, leading to missed opportunities and loss of potential contributions to the digital economy.

The call for gender inclusivity and its gains

The transformative power of technology remains untapped when women are underrepresented in tech spaces. Imagine a scenario where women are active participants and leaders in the tech sphere. The implications would ripple across various dimensions of society, fostering innovation, diversity of thought, and enhanced problem-solving capabilities.

Moreover, economic growth is heavily reliant on gender-inclusive tech spaces. Hence, I believe that addressing gender disparity in tech will amplify Kenya’s competitiveness on the global stage, further positioning it as an industry leader and attracting diverse talents, leading to a robust ecosystem for startups, job creation, and foreign investment.

By empowering women with digital skills, we pave the way for their economic independence, fostering entrepreneurship, and enriching their participation in decision-making processes at all levels. Moreover, increasing women’s representation in tech challenges stereotypes, reshapes perceptions, and inspires future generations of young girls to dream big and pursue STEM education, envisioning themselves as tech leaders.

To realize this vision, concerted efforts from various stakeholders are imperative. We need deliberate policies that promote gender diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. Companies and institutions must also create environments that foster equal opportunities, eliminate biases, and champion women’s leadership roles in tech.

Focusing on SDG #5, Gender Equality, Airtel Kenya remains committed to further developing an inclusive working environment that provides opportunities for all and reflects its values of being alive, inclusive, and respectful. A vital element of the firm’s diversity and inclusion programme is providing its current female employees with the training and mentoring necessary to help them develop their full potential. For instance, Airtel Africa, Airtel Kenya’s parent company, launched the Women in Technology Programme in September 2022, designed to build its technology talent. The first cohort for this programme comprises 60 women, with the anticipation that all the candidates will graduate from the course and will use their acquired knowledge, skill, and confidence to train and mentor other women in technology.

Education also plays a pivotal role. Initiatives that encourage young girls to embrace STEM fields from an early age are fundamental. Mentorship programs, scholarships, and practical exposure to tech industries are stepping stones toward building a more gender-balanced tech ecosystem.

Airtel Kenya is also an active participant of the Girls for Girls program a mentorship program curated in Harvard. The objective of this program is to empower women and girls, growing them into future leaders of society. At the end of the program, the ladies have displayed more confidence, ambition, and clarity in the areas of career, family, and community. We have so far taken 13 ladies through the program and another 12 are currently undertaking the program. This initiative has enabled us promote the career growth of ladies within Airtel and subsequently the tech space.

The ladies at Airtel Kenya also participate in various CSR programs through their ladies’ club the Airtel Divas. These initiatives include mentoring younger school going girls, visits to girls within correctional institutions and partnering with various organizations to support girls in various areas such as sanitary health and education. These initiatives have provided a platform where younger girls learn about the tech space thus creating an aspiration for future careers in tech.

Kenya stands at the precipice of unparalleled technological growth. The trajectory we chart today, in terms of gender inclusivity in tech, will determine the nation’s digital landscape tomorrow. This is not just a moral obligation but a strategic imperative for Kenya’s sustainable development.

In conclusion, let us embark on a journey that transcends barriers and propels Kenya into an era of digital economic prosperity. By bridging the gender divide in our tech spaces, we unlock the potential of half the population, fostering a landscape where innovation, inclusivity, and progress intertwine, shaping a future that is truly prosperous for all.

(Susan Onyach is the HR Director at Airtel Kenya).

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