Can digital technology education improve gender equality in ICT careers in Kenya?
About 10 years ago, multimillion-dollar information and communications technology (ICT) companies like Lyft, Pinterest, Slack, and Uber didn’t exist. Today, some aspects of the industry have not gone through the same rapid evolutionary processes as the rest of the industry.—among them, the disparity in gender equality.
As a member of the 11th cohort of the Echidna Global Scholars program at Brookings, I seek to identify the root causes of the exclusion of girls and young women from digital technology education at all levels, namely undergraduate primary, upper primary, lower secondary, high school and higher education.
Having worked in the ICT industry as a speaker, trainer, and practicing for nearly 20 years, I can easily attest to that. During my undergraduate studies, my computer science class had only one female student among 15 male students. Of the total number of computer science students I currently teach at my university, less than 9% are women. A quick perusal of graduation booklets from various Kenyan universities reveals that the rate of women graduating from university with ICT-related degrees is extremely low and the rate is decreasing further as more universities are included in the system. ‘sample. This phenomenon has been called the “leaky pipeline”, where women and girls do not progress in their ICT-related studies, resulting in under-representation in ICT careers. Low graduation rates contribute to the low number of women eligible for careers in digital technology, given that most employers will only hire digital technology experts who hold a university degree, despite the fact that a good number of employees can be self-taught.
ICT in Kenya
Gender imbalance in ICT in Kenya is part of a worldhuge problem. The 2021 World Economic Forum Reportfor example, observed that only about 26% of artificial intelligence (AI) professionals worldwide are women, and a 2021 UNESCO report noted a strong gender imbalance globally in the representation of women in STEM fields—and even more so in sub-Saharan Africa.
Gender disparities in ICT 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 around 40% of office workers. Rapid advances in digital technology mean that the first job victims of automation are those in administrative, clerical and unskilled jobs. Bearing in mind that there is already a global shortage of women in the digital technology workplace, it is clear that the shift to digital economies will lead to increased unemployment rates among women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Kenyan government has put in place a number of initiatives to attract more boys and girls to ICT-related courses, the most notable being the recent Google-sponsored initiative to pilot coding projects in a few primary schools. Such initiatives, however, fail to take into account existing gender disparities and, importantly, how to mitigate these disparities.
As a member of 11e cohort of the Echidna Global Scholars program at Brookings, I seek to identify the root causes of 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 of exclusion of girls at these levels but will also analyze the influence of early events on young girls’ future career choices in ICT. In other words, I will examine the effects of various inadequacies during the schooling process, such as social, economic and infrastructural inequalities or even something as simple as the lack of role models. The findings of the study will inform the design of an education policy framework to address the gender gap in digital technology careers in Kenya.