Technology as a Global Tool for Creating Equal Opportunities for Women
Think of Chioma, a 25-year old graduate of Economics, who after months of being unable to get a job in the Economic sector, decided to venture into entrepreneurship and start up a bag-making business.
It would be difficult for her to run her business smoothly if she does not make good use of technological platforms. Think of Adeola, a 23-year old undergraduate student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University whose dream has always been to travel out of the country. Adeola would likely end up still in Nigeria even after ten years, if she is unable to access technological platforms to source for scholarships and applications online.
Think of Amina, who hopes of venturing into the tech space and being a “21st Century Tech Girl” but does not know how to go about it nor where or who to learn from. To you, these may be mere stories, but realistically, it is the representation of many average women in Nigeria who as a result of lack of access to technology, internet, and awareness, find themselves in a position where they are unable to achieve their dreams and goals.
Now more than ever, countries are transitioning from traditional-based interactions to technology-based interactions. Nigeria has seemingly joined the bandwagon as individuals have begun to recognize the need for digital technology in the sustainability of national growth and development.
This became more prevalent in light of the 2020 pandemic and the drastic reduction in human capital. Technological advancements have revolutionized the way work is done in various sectors around the world, thus becoming an integral and vital part of our daily activities. This is evident in the way developing and developed countries alike utilize technology inclined tools and how digitalization and artificially intelligence are used in the execution of tasks around the globe. Thus, the saying that ‘the world is a small village, but technology has made it even smaller,’ is not a falsity.
In Nigeria and around the world today, women are severely underrepresented in various developing and lucrative fields despite the fact that they make up half of the population worldwide. In tech specifically, women are 15% less likely to be managers and specialists than their male counterparts, and 19% more likely than men to be service workers; making them more likely to be displaced from their places of work by technology like artificial intelligence or robots.
In 2020, the United Nations estimated that in the coming decade, 26 million women in 30 countries are at a high risk of being displaced by technological advancements. From the foregoing, it can be said that there is a need for technology advancements to be used as a vital instrument in providing for more opportunities for individuals, particularly women around the world. This study seek to show how technology can be effectively utilized to provide favourable chances for women globally.
Technology has indeed gone a long way in the empowerment of women in many instances like providing educational opportunities, starting and running of businesses, providing a platform to be at the forefront of development and make their voices heard. While this has resulted in laudable improvement, we still have a long way to go in assuring equal opportunities for women.
Challenges Forestalling the Implementation of Equal Opportunities for Women
The inability of some countries to utilize technology creating equal opportunities for women can be attributed to several factors:
Inadequate access to digital platforms is a challenge hindering creation of equal opportunity through technology. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, over 50% of women are offline, and women are 20% less likely than men to own a smart phone.
This gender digital gap is an issue prevalent in rural parts of Nigeria as digital literacy is almost non-existent in these places. Thus, this disparity has resulted in an divide across the nation where women are less privileged. In some African countries like Kenya, 54% of women were reported to have no access to internet or mobile phones.
In Uganda, 45% of women as opposed to 8% of the men experienced online harassment, cyberbullying or cyberstalking. It is evident that these combined acts can limit digital access and participation of women and restrict several opportunities available.
Another major barrier to attaining equal opportunity for women is the gap in employment activities. Regardless of the many discussions on lack of employment of women particularly in the tech sector, the bar is still set so high for women without any corresponding/concurrent platform to support them.
According to a survey conducted by Accenture, in the USA, women make up only 28% of employed adults holding roles in computing and tech related jobs. This is disheartening, but what is even more disheartening is that there is a continuous drastic decline in this rate as many women upon attaining the age of 35 choose to opt out of these fields.
The reason for this can be attributed to the lack of inclusivity of women in the tech industry alongside the inability of some women to effectively balance their family responsibilities with their career. To compound this challenge, there is little to no incentive for these women as studies have shown that men are 15% more likely than women to get promoted at the workplace.
Lack of retention of women in the workplace is another barrier. Employee retention is the organisational goal of keeping productive workers by facilitating a positive work atmosphere and a favourable work environment to foster engagement, participation and a healthy work-life balance.
According to the study conducted by Accenture, 38% of women who majored in computer sciences work in the field compared to 53% of their male counterparts. This can be attributed to lack of retention and has been dubbed ‘leaky pipeline” by persons. The leaky pipeline metaphor portrays the way women become underrepresented in fields, particularly the STEM fields.
The imbalance begins with very few women choosing to major in these fields, and even fewer aspiring to achieve tenurial faculty positions in academia. This is why more women have been said to “leak” out of academia into other career paths, because of these factors resulting in an unfavourable environment for them. Retention is an important factor of workplace inclusivity.
However, organizations must be inclusive to encourage women to stay. Accenture reported in a study that while 68% of leaders say that they have created empowering environments for the employees, only 36% of the employees agree.
Even the attitudes of people who work in this field is sometimes discriminatory to the women. For instance, in May 2022, a popular tweet of Patrick Shyu went viral. Patrick tweeted that: “So when I used to conduct interviews for Google, I rejected all women on the spot and trashed their résumés in front of them. I told them, ‘Go have some kids. Don’t worry, I’m smarter than you, I know.’” He went on to say that, “Coding is a brutal 24/7 job, mutually exclusive with motherhood. Mothers would come back “obsolete and outdated” after maternity leave.”
Although this tweet was later deleted and Mr. Patrick was sanctioned, it goes to show the disposition of persons in this day and age, particularly of men to women in the tech space. This is highly discouraging and it is no wonder that many women are reluctant to work and stay in these fields. Thus, the lack of inclusivity discourages women from remaining in a work environment, particularly in tech spaces.
Another challenge is the workplace culture gap. This is similar to the previously mentioned barrier. According to a Pew Research Centre report, 50% of women said that they had at one point, experienced gender discrimination at work, while 19% of men say the same. Sexual harassment is also another issue as 36% of women in the survey conducted reported that sexual harassment is a problem in the workplace.
As stated earlier, lack of representation of women limits some women’s ability to succeed in an industry. This leads to what is known as ‘inadvertent gender bias in company culture’ leaving many women with insufficient knowledge of the modus operandi of these fields and little to no opportunity for mentorship in the stated field. With regards to start-ups, one in four women are female founders according to a survey conducted by Silicon Valley Bank.
According to this study, this underrepresentation has a negative impact on gender diversity. Because of some factors like, no funding, underpayment, lack of compensation, more women are discouraged from venturing into these fields.
The few women who have ventured into the field have been known to quit because of the unfavourable circumstances relating to start-ups and workplaces. Some women also lack access to affordable internet and mobile phones, which can be a stumbling block to accessing digital platforms and resources.
Technology as an Effective Instrument for Creation of Equal Opportunities for Women: an Overview
Having looked at some of the barriers that hinders the attainment of equal opportunity, we would now address the flip side, ie, how technology has played a vital role and can be used as an instrument to create equal opportunities for women.
Technology has given many women a platform to gain access to opportunities available to them. Current projects have been put into place by organisations where women can learn soft skills remotely without the need for physical or traditional learning.
Thus, in situations where women are unable to leave their homes regularly to work, these projects have gone a long way to provide an opportunity to women. Some of these executed projects include: She Code Africa teaches women coding skills and assists them in finding opportunities in that field; Vibrant Girls Development Initiative is also an initiative which gives mentorship and career advice to female undergraduate students; and so others.
These forums help women in similar fields to come together, share experiences, opportunities, their success stories and networking opportunities to fellow women. Worthy of mention, however, is the fact that the success of these programs is dependent on the women’s independent access to technological resources such as internet access and electronic gadgets that would make remote learning possible.
Referring to Amina’s story above, this platform where provided will be a great source of inspiration and an avenue for her to learn and even receive mentorship from women who have ventured into and are successful in the industry. This would have been difficult to achieve without the use of technology.
Furthermore, for women in business, technology gives them a wide customer base, enabling them reach out to customers within and outside the country (location) of business. With the help of social media marketing and media strategies, business owners can using content creation, reach a wider audience and customer range which would improve the quality of the business and in turn lead to the development and empowerment of the community.
Referring to Chioma’s story above, assuming she was born 30 years earlier and she wanted to start a business in the 90s, she would have be restricted to physical distribution and sale of her handcrafted bags.
However, with the introduction of technology in our present time, it would be much easier for her to use social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to interact with and access a larger customer base through the creation of sponsored ads, etc. In this manner, technology has been a game changer for women business-wise by connecting them to markets, provide online training, and bringing these opportunities to their doorstep.
Additionally, technology has enabled women to become more financially independent. During the pandemic, many persons moved their businesses online. In Nigeria particularly, many men and women especially, leveraged on WhatsApp to buy and sell goods, and this action have continue till date. With access to these online platforms, women can start their own business that would run online without the hassle of renting a shop, paying for electricity bills, etc.
The traditional mode of running business is slowly becoming obsolete as more people prefer online shopping to physical shopping. As a matter of fact, according to a report submitted by International Finance Corporation (IFC) in 2021 more than 51% of the sellers in Jumia Nigeria are women.
Many women leveraged on E-Commerce and digital commercial platforms to build their brands as entrepreneurs. One example is Adedoyin Adeigbe, a single mother of three who stated how selling online on Jumia has boosted her business growth, enabled her support her family and even allowed her mentor other women. This shows how technology has positively impacted the women entrepreneurship and enabled them create economic opportunities for themselves and for others.
Similarly, digital technology has made it easier for women to access educational opportunities without which, it would have been unavailable, inaccessible or exorbitant. Access to digital platforms enables women to receive educational materials, connect with academic mentors, and participate in online trainings and courses.
More women can now leverage on platforms like LinkedIn and YouTube to connect and network with mentors and role models worldwide, and to also participate in programs that would boost their creativity. In the earlier stated story of Adeola, she can now exploit these platforms to connect with and reach out to students and alumnis of her dream school to get the information or mentorship she needs so as to advance her goals.
Also, women can make use of these platforms to advocate for gender inclusivity for other women, which will create more opportunities for women generally and globally. For instance, Malala Yousafzai is an education activist from Pakistan who uses her social media platform to advocate for girls’ right and education.
In Nigeria, Nneka Ekechukwu, the founder of She Leads Africa – a digital platform for African women entrepreneurs – had empowered lots of women and provided then with network opportunities and resources. She uses digital platforms to assist hundreds of women access resources they need to start their own businesses and become financial independent.
Accelerating Gender Parity Through Technology: What the Government Can Do
Government of States have a decisive role to play in the advancement of gender equality via technology. They can create legislation, fiscal measures, public-private partnerships and regulations to promote digital access and inclusion, and to empower the women via provision of funds and resources where necessary.
For example, in Singapore, the women’s labour force participation rate increased from 28% in 1979 to 58% in 2016, reflecting a number of legislation enabling women achieve work-life balance like childcare subsidies, paid maternity leave and so on. These policies when enacted and implemented will play an important role in boosting women’s career progression.
The Government can also create good jobs with adequate pay for women and by doing so, encourage other states to do the same. In United Kingdom for instance, administration, health and public administration are the only sectors where women hold more managerial positions than men. In the National Health Service, women make up 46% of all Executive Directors and 38% of non-executive roles.
Also, in 2015, the Japanese Government set a target of women filling 15% of prefectural civil service director roles by 2020. (In the year 2016, the rate was 9.3%). These implemented policies when internationally adopted, will go a long way to reinforce advancements and progress, and create equal opportunities for women. It would also influence other countries to implement same and further develop gender inclusivity.
Organizations can also do their part to create content tailored to fulfilling the needs of women, and ensure they get access to the information and digital resources they need. An example is the Ingressive for Good 1000 Women in Design Scholarship which seeks bridge the inequality gap in the design industry.
Partnerships with some private companies to provide online learning platforms, financing partners to sponsor the costs of the courses and providing data access to persons who cannot afford it to enable them get access to these online platforms to learn can also be executed by organisations to promote gender equity.
As the saying goes, ‘a woman with a laptop can be more powerful than a man with a gun.’ Today, women across the world are making waves in many spheres of life including the intricate world of technology and entrepreneurship. Technology accentuates a woman’s power.
While there is a yawning divide reflecting uneven bargaining power and unequal distribution of technologies between men and women across the world, technology can be a viable tool to bridge this gap and provide socio-economic advantages to the female population.
Therefore, it is pertinent for women to come together to change the course of their lives in the society, and technology may just be the magic wand to transform the conditions of women in our world today. To this effect, all hands should be on deck to ensure appropriate utilisation of technology to achieve equal opportunity for women globally.
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Christabel Ogechi Ifezie is a value-driven 500 level law student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and has interests in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Energy and Environmental Law. She has gained valuable experience working with and learning from top-tier law firms in Nigeria.