Article by Bonu Hafizova, Director of Alif Academy

gender equality, gender balanceThe dynamic of gender-specific job sectors, roles, and positions might seem like an outdated concept, yet events like International Women’s Day highlight the divides in the workplace that still exist.

The lack of equal gender representation in the tech sector worldwide is particularly prevalent.

Take the UK for example. Women make up  49% of the nation’s workforce, yet when it comes to the technology sector,  81% are male. Whilst gender equality in the technology industry is not comprehensively documented in Central Asia like other regions, existing research shows that women that hold tech roles in Uzbekistan is even lower, at just 18%. As the Director of Alif Academy, a centre dedicated to providing female Tajikistani residents and Afghan refugees with free STEM courses, we have to question why such inequality exists.

In my view, it partly reflects a general and often unfounded stereotype about the tech industry. It is wrongly believed that tech jobs do not interest women or that women are not skilled or adept enough to pursue STEM careers. With males disproportionately dominating the sector and holding the majority of leadership positions, it is a difficult narrative to counter.

To evidence this, we need to examine the choices men and women make before they start their careers. Looking at the UK, we’d expect to see a positive representation of women on STEM courses. However,  university enrolment figures in 2021 show the majority of university enrollees are female, with a 56.6% share, yet the gender split for IT courses in 2021 details that, of 129,610 UCAS applications, only 22,710 – or 17.5% – were female. Any attempt to promote more women pursuing careers in tech has to take this into account. More women need to be encouraged early on to pursue training in the tech field or at least be encouraged to explore their interest in the industry.

Of course, the formulation of career choices among both men and women occurs long before university course selections are made, which is why Alif Academy gives specific focus to children in elementary school also.  By providing clearer guidance and examples to young children, we stand to take a proactive approach to tackle gender equality more widely. Age is a crucial factor when changing gender landscapes, particularly in developing countries where less accessible information encourages the ingraining of traditional, but incorrect stereotypes as to what roles women are suited to in society and the workplace.

In order to formulate a system that accepts more women into technological industries, increased awareness is needed to change the longstanding, traditional stereotypes of who a tech worker is. There are several ways to do this, with prioritisation depending on the culture, country and prevalence of females already in tech positions.

Firstly, we need to champion the women currently working in the sector and provide them with an equal share of voice when it comes to discussing their experiences, expertise, and careers so far. It may prove particularly effective to champion women in leading tech positions, and promote case studies from a multitude of developed and developing countries that focus on the specific experiences women have had in their technological careers.

Whether it be increased marketing, female-led initiatives, scholarships, funds, or female-dedicated internship opportunities, the sector will not change unless a widespread and active invitation for women to learn more about the industry is achieved.

Second, education needs to be as inclusive as possible. At Alif Academy, we ensure that our female students have equal support and resources when compared to their male counterparts. Stereotypes are often generational, so we’ve seen that engaging with the parents or guardians of our female students and explaining the opportunities afforded within the IT sector has encouraged course completion, as well as supporting career drive and ambition. Importantly, through our experiences at Alif Academy, it is clear that it is never too late for women to pursue a career in tech. The biggest step for women is taking that first step.

Finally, the tech sector needs to be accessible for all women. Acceptance of pursuing a career in technology may be improving in advanced economies. However, we must also accept that this is a global issue. If we don’t have spokespeople raising awareness of the many possibilities women have in technological sectors in developed and developing countries the gender split will remain stark.

Alif Academy highlights how impactful these education opportunities, particularly when easily accessible, can be. We’ve started to make headway in Tajikistan, and I look forward to continuing this mission and seeing other countries do the same.