About 10 years ago, multibillion-dollar information and communication technology (ICT) companies like Lyft, Pinterest, Slack, and Uber didn’t exist. Today, certain aspects within the industry have not followed the same pace of rapid evolutionary processes as the rest of the sector.—the gender equality disparity is chief among them.
As a member of the 11th cohort of the Echidna Global Scholars Program at Brookings, I seek to identify the root causes behind the exclusion of girls and young women from digital technology education at all levels, namely lower primary, upper primary, secondary school , high school and tertiary education.
Having worked in the ICT industry as a teacher, trainer, and a practitioner for almost 20 years, I can easily attest to this fact. While I was completing my university studies, my computer class had only one female student out of 15 male students. Of the total number of computer science students I currently teach at my university, less than 9 percent are women. A quick perusal of the graduation brochures of several Kenyan universities reveals that the rate of women graduating from university with ICT-related degrees is extremely low, and the rate decreases further as more universities are included in the sample. . This phenomenon has been called a “leaky pipeline”, where women and girls do not progress in their ICT-related studies, culminating in under-representation in ICT careers. Low graduation rates contribute to the low number of women eligible for digital technology careers, as most employers will only hire digital technology experts who have a college degree, even though a good number of employees may be self-taught.
ICT in Kenya
The gender imbalance in ICT in Kenya is part of a worldwide problem. 2021 World Economic Forum Reportfor example, it noted that only about 26 percent of artificial intelligence (AI) professionals worldwide are women, and a 2021 UNESCO report noted a strong gender imbalance globally regarding the representation of women in STEM fields—and even more so in sub-Saharan Africa.
Gender disparities in ICT-related careers in Kenya could easily negatively impact gender equality and economic empowerment efforts in most workplaces. A report by McKinsey and company indicates that in emerging economies, including Kenya, women make up about 40 percent of white-collar support workers. Rapid advances in digital technology mean that the first victims of automation with respect to jobs are white-collar, white-collar and unskilled workers. Given that there is already a global shortage of women in the digital workplace, it is clear that the move to digital economies will result in higher unemployment rates among women in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Kenyan government has launched a number of initiatives seeking to attract more children to ICT-related courses, the most notable being the recent initiative sponsored by Google to pilot coding projects in some primary schools. Such initiatives, however, do not take into account existing gender disparities and, more importantly, how to mitigate these disparities.
As a member of the 11the cohort of the Echidna Global Scholars Program at Brookings, sought to identify the root causes behind the exclusion of girls and young women from digital technology education at all levels—namely lower primary, upper primary, lower secondary, upper secondary and tertiary education. The study will not only examine the mechanisms that exclude girls at these levels, but will also analyze the influence of early developments on young women’s future ICT career choices. That is, I will examine the effects of various insufficiencies during the schooling process, such as social, economic and infrastructural inequalities or even something as simple as the lack of role models. The results of the study will inform the design of an education policy framework with the aim of closing the gender gap in digital technology careers in Kenya.