IWD 2023: Breaking Barriers for Women in the African Tech Industry
In Morocco, where I was born and raised, only 22% of Moroccan women join the workforce. The local figures are not far from the truth since studies show the MENA region has the lowest participating female labour force globally.
As the African Regional Manager for Forest Interactive, I am a witness to the issue of gender inequality in the telecommunications, entertainment and content verticals in my region. Women in my industry seldom receive gaming-related questions, despite their experience and knowledge on the topic. In a call for tech specialists, only 20% of the resumes I received were from women.
Unfortunately, this is not just a local issue but a global one, with opportunities in tech even rarer. Women in the industry comprise only 28% of professionals in the sector worldwide and only 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The problem is not limited to personal situations, but even in the tools that we use. In tech, AI algorithms can perpetuate gender biases and other forms of discrimination, creating negative impacts on women's lives.
The issue is even more complex in Africa as cultural norms and societal expectations play a bigger role in preventing women from pursuing certain professions and opportunities. While the number of women in senior leadership roles is increasing (such as mine), progress is sluggish, and women continue to encounter barriers to success.
The first step toward enabling women in the tech industry is to address the workplace.
Inclusivity and diversity
Africa is a diverse continent and home to over 1.4 billion people from various cultural, linguistic, and ethnic backgrounds. The tech industry has been historically dominated by men, contributing to the lack of diversity that led to the underrepresentation of women. It is important for employers to create a culture where everyone feels valued, respected and has equal opportunities to succeed. This means identifying and addressing unconscious biases in recruitment, promotion, and decision-making processes.
Since 2020, Forest Interactive has outwardly expressed commitment to ending harassment in the workplace. Named #ItEndsNow, the campaign formalizes our continuous effort to advocate for harassment awareness, prevention, and support in the workplace.
Access to networks and possibilities for advancement
Since African women come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, they need access to both support and resources within and outside the company to advance in their careers. It is essential for tech companies to build a culture of continuous learning and development open to all genders, where everyone is encouraged to acquire new skills and knowledge. Participation in industry events, mentorship programs, and community outreach activities enables African women to aspire beyond set societal expectations for them.
Flexible work environment
African countries have their own infrastructure issues that make it difficult to maintain a work-life balance. Lack of adequate public transportation, electricity shortage and food insecurity can threaten productivity as employees try to answer the challenges of commuting to work and maintaining a consistent work schedule on their own. Work-from-home setups, flexible schedules, and access to resources addressing physical and mental health save company resources. A flexible work environment will aid African women in balancing both personal and professional aspirations effectively.
In conclusion, achieving gender equality in the tech industry in Africa requires a multifaceted approach. Aptly, as we celebrate International Women's Day and embrace the theme of #EmbraceEquity, I hope more African tech companies look up to Forest Interactive in promoting diversity and inclusivity. Not only because it is about time to do it right but also because it unlocks the full potential of our workforce.
As more women are given equal opportunities, we can expect to see more stories (like mine) in tech platforms and a brighter future for the industry.