It’s a recognized fact that women are not equally represented in the ICT industry, with United Nations (UN) figures highlighting an estimated shortfall of more than two million skilled female ICT professionals worldwide.
This has not escaped the attention of Sereana Narayan, Communications Associate at UN Women in Fiji. UN Women is mandated to get more women involved in male-majority roles, such as computer programming and technical infrastructure, as part of the third UN Millennium Development Goal, which promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Sereana, who was also an APNIC 38 fellow, has witnessed the lack of women in ICT-related roles in Fiji. Along with other interested women, she joined a ‘Girls and Women in ICT’ group to help encourage more women to consider a career in ICT. They hold an annual forum aligned to the ITU’s ‘International Girls in ICT Day‘ (celebrated in April since 2011) to discuss the issues facing women in the industry.
The ‘Turning the Tide for Women in the Pacific’ forum in Nadi, Fiji, in November 2014, agreed to:
- Promote equal representation of women in industry workplaces and in the airwaves
- Portray women in a positive and non-stereotypical manner and as role models across all forms of media and technological platforms
- Provide women access to affordable and accessible ICTs, and
- Address specifically the challenges and needs of women and girls in rural areas
“We’ve found that a major barrier to women entering the ICT field is this deep-rooted idea that it is only for men. We need to break this mindset and raise awareness in Fiji that women can be successful in ICT roles,” says Sereana.
Reasons why women are not entering ICT
According to an ITU study, girls and women are not entering the ICT field due to reasons including a lack of awareness among students, teachers and parents on what a career in ICT could offer; a lack of role models; stereotypes enforced by popular culture and media; peer influence; and lack of confidence.
“We visit high schools and universities to encourage girls to consider taking these sorts of subjects,” says Sereana. “In some cases we also talk to parents to try and persuade them of the benefits this has for their daughters.”
“We’ve seen some success with more female teachers now in high schools teaching these subjects and more women taking courses such as pure maths at university. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.”
2014 figures indicate that Fiji’s largest university, the University of South Pacific (USP), has seen a rise in women entering university, with women now comprising 30% of total student numbers.
Making a difference in Fiji
Sereana’s colleague, Ateca Rorika Raikuna, an IT Assistant at Fiji’s UN Women and an APNIC 40 fellow, fortunately had the support of her parents to enter the IT industry, but notes that some roles are still seen as more suitable for men.
“Some roles are perceived to be more suited to males such as carrying heavy equipment and climbing tall towers to install equipment. The IT roles seen as more relevant to women are those in call centres or in administration. There is no reason whatsoever that women can’t do the other roles,” Ateca says.
A key objective of the ‘Girls and Women in ICT’ is to visit job fairs and talk to companies about the benefits of having more women in ICT roles. Employees can actively participate in the process by revising job descriptions to reduce gender stereotypes; build gender diverse teams and showcase technical women during the interview process; build strong ties to conferences, colleges and universities; and set targets to hire technical women.
In fact, studies have shown that a better employee gender balance tends to increase organizational productivity and profitability.
While both Sereana and Ateca acknowledge that there is improvement in Fiji, there is still some way to go.
“Women need to stand firm in their goals and not settle for less,” says Ateca. “It’s great having companies like APNIC recognizing women in ICT and providing another forum to showcase some of the success stories in the region.”
“If you have the passion and drive, you will succeed. It’s all about finding the opportunities and focusing on how to get there.”
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