Breaking the Barriers: Requiring an Equitable Future for Women in Tech!

Abstract

Women are spearheading a transformative movement within the traditionally male-dominated tech industry, shattering barriers and serving as role models for others.

Dealing with the Societal Pressures

As a woman who has navigated the often challenging terrain of the IT industry, I understand firsthand the obstacles and hurdles that women face. From a young age, societal expectations mold girls into predefined roles, with options like medicine or humanities being deemed more suitable. The concept of “doctor bahu” (Doctor daughter-in-law) exemplifies this. Where after getting her degree she is expected to prioritize family obligations over her career, while her husband is encouraged to pursue his dreams without hindrance. Throughout my journey, I’ve seen how these societal pressures shape women’s choices, often limiting their opportunities for professional growth.

In Pakistan, many women choose jobs like teaching or healthcare management because they think these jobs let them balance their work and family life better. This means they can take good care of their families while still earning money. But, this idea makes it seem like women are only good at certain jobs, which stops them from getting ahead in fields where men are usually in charge, like technology.

A Significant Realization

I realized the extent of this issue back in 2016 when I was teaching undergraduate and postgraduate Computer Science courses at a university. In a big class, there were only six girls, and they always stayed quiet in a corner. At first, I thought they weren’t interested, but when I spoke to them, I figured they lacked role models and mentors and were hesitant about whether pursuing a career in the tech industry was the best choice for them.

Women worldwide have made significant strides in increasing their involvement in higher education and employment opportunities. But in fields like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), there’s still a big gap between men and women. This gap is the same in Pakistan, where there aren’t as many women and girls studying these subjects. Studies show that stereotypes about gender make it harder for women to get into and advance in STEM fields. The World Economic Forum says that if we want to achieve global goals for sustainability, we need both science and gender equality. But if women aren’t encouraged and given the same chances as men to work in STEM fields, we’ll have even fewer people with the technical skills we need.

 

My Aspirations for Women in Tech

I wanted to do something for my students, and true to my way of doing things, I jumped into action. Initially, I thought of just creating a platform to connect these girls with inspiring role models but over time, this aspiration evolved into a deeply personal mission for me. Driven by this desire for change, I started Women in Tech PK — a community that helps women in the tech world. We offer support, advice, and mentors to guide them through the obstacles they face.

Many of these women struggle because they don’t have a community to lean on or access to better opportunities. I wanted to change that. I wanted to give them a place where they could get the knowledge, support, and encouragement they need to succeed in the industry they love.

The deeper I delved into this issue, the more evident it became that women were at a disadvantage. According to UN Women, digital skills are crucial for the future of work, with demand for these skills expected to increase. However, many women and girls face barriers in accessing opportunities to develop these skills, including negative stereotypes about girls in STEM fields. Statistics show that women and girls are 25% less likely than men to possess adequate knowledge and digital skills for using technology, limiting their opportunities. Although girls perform equally fine as boys in science in most countries, they still occupy less than one-third of positions in the global technology sector.

The Perfect Initiative for Girls in Technology

Promoting girls’ digital skills through economical, equitable, and inclusive education is not only a matter of fairness but is also economically essential. In low- and middle-income countries, young females miss out on approximately US$15 billion in opportunities economically available due to disparities in internet access and digital skills compared to their male counterparts. With complete access to resources and suitable skills, girls are capable of becoming empowered digital citizens.

These statistics highlight the urgent need for initiatives aimed at bridging the gender gap in tech education and providing more opportunities for women to acquire valuable digital skills.

Understanding the significance of providing women with essential skills and opportunities for success, I established CodeGirls, a coding Boot Camp aimed at teaching coding skills and facilitating employment opportunities. In many tech professions, skills are prioritized over specific degrees, making our program accessible to all. Yet, even as CodeGirls began to make waves in the tech community, I knew that there was still much work to be done.

Additional Opportunities for Women

It wasn’t enough to simply provide women with skills and opportunities. And so, in collaboration with Hira Saeed, I co-founded CaterpillHERs— An innovative initiative aimed at addressing the pipeline issue from a fresh perspective. At CaterpillHERs, we’re committed to providing women with transformative opportunities through career and entrepreneurship accelerators. We aim to uplift women by enhancing their skill sets and facilitating their professional growth. Through our programs, participants not only acquire valuable skills but also receive guidance on how to leverage these skills to generate income and achieve financial independence.

CaterpillHERs aims to create a more inclusive and equitable ecosystem where women can thrive and excel. Through our collaborative efforts, we are reshaping the narrative surrounding women in the workforce and empowering them to achieve their full potential.

Challenges Faced by Pakistani Women

In a patriarchal society like ours, women often face numerous obstacles and societal expectations that limit their choices and opportunities. We need to stand against these odds and challenge the status quo. We must actively work towards breaking down the barriers that hold women back, whether it be through providing mentorship, access to education and resources, or simply offering support and encouragement.

Insufficient data on women’s workplace experiences also poses significant challenges in identifying issues like unequal pay, discrimination, and barriers to career advancement. This lack of insight makes it difficult for policymakers, employers, and advocates to develop effective strategies for supporting women in the workforce. As a result, this lack of understanding perpetuates unfair treatment and inequality in the workplace, hindering women’s full participation and success in the job market. It’s crucial to have accurate and comprehensive information to address gender inequalities and ensure just and equitable opportunities for all.

Moreover, the exclusion of women from certain fields, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), not only represents injustice but also stifles innovation and progress. Diversity drives creativity and competitiveness, and when women are marginalized, it limits our collective potential.

Consider the example of airbag design, initially tailored primarily for men, resulting in fatal consequences for women and children. If women had been part of the design process, these tragedies could have been averted. Thus, promoting gender equality in STEM isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s essential for fostering innovation and safeguarding society’s well-being.

Numerous initiatives led by women, such as IEI provide high-quality, equitable, and inclusive education in remote and less accessible parts of Pakistan. Maria Umar’s Women’s Digital League, offering online work opportunities for Pakistani women, and Sadaffe Abid’s CIRCLE, focused on skill building for women, are actively promoting inclusivity. However, we require more initiatives like these to truly alter the industry’s dynamics in Pakistan.

Conclusive Notion
As for me, I now found myself reflecting on the journey that had led me to this point—the challenges, the triumphs, and everything in between. It had been a journey marked by moments of doubt and uncertainty, but also by moments of immense pride and fulfillment. I look ahead to the future, I feel a renewed sense of purpose and determination to continue fighting for a more equitable and inclusive tech industry.

I often remember what Helen Keller once said: “By ourselves, we can’t do much, but when we work together, we can achieve great things.”

Faiza Yousaf

Founder of WomenInTechPK

As a woman who has navigated the often challenging terrain of the IT industry, I understand firsthand the obstacles and hurdles that women face. From a young age, societal expectations mold girls into predefined roles, with options like medicine or humanities being deemed more suitable.

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