Women in tech: An endangered species

At a recent cybersecurity technology vendor event the number of women present was significantly lower than their male counterparts. There was one woman for every 10 men. This number may seem stark or even unusual because the workforce in Jamaica tends to reflect a lot of females. How often are the roles of these women examined? Do we know how many of our women are leading successful technological careers?

In larger countries, like the US and the UK, there is a massive movement focused on increasing the number of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and highlighting the impact they make. The research shows significantly fewer women in STEM than in other industries. Some of the reasons cited by women surveyed include:

• a lack of female mentors and role models in leadership roles in STEM;

• unequal growth opportunities when compared to men;

• unequal pay for the same skills; and

• perception of IT as a male-dominated field

• Lack of work/life balance.

While this may be valid outside our shores, the question is: Do Jamaican women face some of the same challenges in succeeding in STEM-related careers?

Although the data is limited, universities show a steady increase in the numbers enrolling in computer science-related degrees, from as low as 20 per cent in 2017 to 50 per cent in 2022. The range varies depending on the field of study and university. This could mean that we have a blossoming female technology talent pipeline that could be the secret weapon to digitalisation success in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Although there may not be a challenge in attracting potential tech girl bosses, there is no proof that the same can be said for retaining tech talent. Organisations islandwide continue to struggle to fill technology-related roles while many talented young tech women seek opportunities off-island. The two primary problems we face with taking advantage of the chance that women could represent in the sector are the misconception that there are no issues with diversity, equity and inclusion in Jamaica, and the lack of data that speaks to what our women are experiencing in the workplace. These discussions are often overlooked because, generally speaking, there are many women in local lower- to middle-management roles in several companies. This means that, in Jamaica, the problems of unconscious bias and inequity are primarily unreported, misunderstood, and therefore not addressed.

How do we solve this problem? We provide support to enable more women to access and build sustainable careers in STEM and fund the research to gain accurate data on the state of women in STEM in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region. This is the intention behind the STEM By Femme Fund, established by Stacey Hines, BCS Fellow and immediate past president of the JTDA.

The scholarship fund launches this November at the annual BizTech conference. The conference, hosted by the JTDA, is designed to engage IT professionals in business and academic communities throughout the region. The aim is to create a robust and innovative platform for technology development partners, the private sector, civil society, academia, Caribbean governments, and the public to meet and share new technological innovations and insights.

Contributed by Stacey Hines, founder of Epic Transformation and immediate past president, JTDA.

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