Women in tech up, but not enough
Afke Schaart, SVP and head of global impact, Huawei. (Photo: Huawei)

The number of women in technology and leadership roles has increased. Still, there has been little growth in the representation of women in terms of percentage in jobs like programmers and executives in the world’s top digital companies. These findings emerged from a recent Huawei seminar, ‘Addressing the gender gap’.

“One of the key things we have learned is that radical transformation is possible and that it is possible for all of us,” said Alaina Percival, CEO and co-founder of Women Who Code, a non-governmental organisation based in the United States.

Additionally, Percival said that companies, industries and governments should continue to build for inclusion and think about how we can design inclusion by increasing opportunities for women across the industry. “Inclusion is not by desire. It’s by design,” Percival said.

Afke Schaart, senior vice-president of public affairs at Huawei, said that 75 per cent of the jobs are expected to be related to STEMs by 2050, citing UNESCO figures. Schaart noted that her company has rolled out several initiatives globally to groom young talents in the digital sector, such as Seeds for the Future, ICT Academy and the Global ICT Contest. “We see ourselves playing an important role in enabling and inspiring more women to join the technology sector, given that we are an important partner for going digital in this region,” Schaart said. “The good thing is that we have been committed to the initiatives, some of which have been there for a long time. We started the Seeds for the Future programme in 2008, and it is still growing,” Schaart said.

Isabelle Mauro, director, head of information, communications and technology industries, World Economic Forum, said that women continue to be under-represented in the “jobs of the future”, which are primarily jobs related to the digital sector that are going to shape the future of people’s lives. Estimates are that women make up only 14 per cent of the workforce in cloud computing, 20 per cent in engineering, and a bit more in data and artificial intelligence, respectively. “We are still very far from at least arriving at the middle ground,” Mauro said.

The executives participating in the webinar, moderated by Leah Belsky, chief enterprise officer at Coursera, agreed that the tech industry had rolled out many initiatives to improve gender-inclusiveness, including those in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the general job market had yet to appreciate the value and need for pay equality or a diverse workforce.

Percival said many women leave their jobs in the technology sectors early without achieving their full potential, while the technology industry has a talent shortage. Currently, over a million engineers are shy of market needs in the tech industry. Percival added that the choice to leave might not necessarily relate to family issues, but that one of the factors could be less paid salaries than their male counterparts. “Thirty-eight per cent of women in tech plan to leave their jobs in the next two years, and 50 per cent will leave by the time they are 35. That represents a huge financial and creative loss for companies, the industry, and the families and communities,” Percival said.

Mauro stressed the importance of equipping the younger generation with digital skills for any job as many industries go through digital transformation.

“As the world is becoming more digital, today, more than ever, we really need all aspects of the economy, all sectors of the government, to come together to really make sure that no one is left behind, particularly women and girls,” Mauro said.

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