By Kingsley I. Ilechukwu, Bureau Chief, South West
Technology is one of the most dynamic and influential sectors of our economy, shaping our lives and society in profound ways. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the role of women in technology. While it’s no secret that the technology industry has traditionally been male-dominated, more and more women are breaking through the glass ceiling and making their mark in the field.
Chief Broadband Officer at MTN Nigeria, Onyinye Ikena-Emeka said this while delivering her keynote address at the third edition of the Women Entrepreneurs And Executives Tech Summit & Awards (WEETSA) held at the Raddison Blu Hotel, Isaac John Street, Ikeja, GRA, Lagos, south west, Nigeria on Thursday, September 14, 2023. Ms. Ikenna-Emeka was represented at the event.
“You may have heard of the glass ceiling effect- i.e. the invisible barrier that prevents women and minorities from rising to the highest ranks in a corporation/industry. What you may not realize is just how pervasive this subtle form if discrimination still is, even several years into the 21st century,” she said.
According to the Chief Broadband Officer at MTN Nigeria, there were many factors that contributed to the low participation and retention of women in technology. Some of these include:
• Lack of role models and successful female mentors in tech to support them along their journey.
• Women often face stereotypes and biases that question their abilities, skills & interests in tech.
• Hostile work environment: harassment, discrimination or isolation at work due to their gender or race; face challenges balancing work and family responsibilities due to lack of flexibility.
• Fewer opportunities for career advancement or professional development due to systemic barriers such as unequal pay, limited access to funding or resources or lack of recognition for their achievements.
Despite these challenges however, she maintained, there were also many opportunities for women to thrive in technology as a result of:
• Increasing demand: Technology is constantly evolving and creating new fields and applications that require diverse perspectives and skills. There is a high demand for talent in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data science, cloud computing, blockchain and more.
• Growing awareness: There is a growing awareness of the importance and benefits of diversity and inclusion in technol7ogy, both within and outside the industry. Many organizations, initiatives and movements are working to promote and support women’s participation and leadership in technology.
• Empowering networks: Women can leverage online platforms such as Medium, LinkedIn, Twitter etc., to showcase their work, share their insights, connect with other professionals and access valuable resources and opportunities. They can also join local communities or groups that offer mentoring programs or events to learn new skills or network with peers or potential employers.
Her keynote address read in part: “To harness these opportunities therefore, it is pertinent for all parties to take deliberate steps towards breaking the glass for women and girls to thrive in the digital economy.
How can Employers break the glass ceiling:
• Foster an air of equality at every level of the company.
• Ensure that women and minorities are fairly represented in any employee development programs that may exist.
• Actively recruit women if yours if a male-dominated field.
• Fostering a real spirit of gender-blind and color-blind cohesion throughout the company can help in the long run by erasing stereotypes and biases.
How can Women & Girls can break this glass ceiling:
• When people say you can’t do something, don’t listen, rather follow your own interests and ignore outdated stereotypes.
• Find a good mentor.
• Value your worth—and learn to say “no.”- There’s a fine line between being humble and underselling your talent and achievements.
• Be a lifelong learner- Even as you grow into a leadership role, keep following the curiosity that got you here
• Be true to yourself and speak up – Tech culture sometimes asks the impossible of women: They are told to be assertive and demanding, yet gentle and demure. But what matters most isn’t what other people expect—it’s what you expect of yourself.
• Find the right company – No matter where you are in your career, you’re no doubt looking to learn and grow, to feel challenged and supported, to stand out and yet know that you belong.”
According to Ikenna-Emeka, women in technology had come a long way, but there was still much work to be done. She added: “The benefits of having more women in the field are numerous and cannot be ignored. By breaking through the glass ceiling, women in technology can inspire future generations, promote diversity and innovation, and make a significant impact on society and culture.
As we continue to push for greater equality and inclusivity in the technology industry, it’s important to remember the unique challenges that women face and work to provide them with the support and opportunities they need to succeed.”
Earlier in her welcome address, WEETSA Co-ordinator, Ugochi Emmanuel stated that the theme of this year’s event : “Breaking the Glass Ceiling for Women and Girls to Thrive in the Digital Economy.”, was carefully chosen for deliberation, essentially to underscore the limitless extent to which women and girls could go in attaining excellence in the ICT industry.
Said she: “Today, again, we gather here to celebrate the tremendous contributions of women to the development of Nigeria, and to further embark on a journey that aims to reshape the landscape of opportunities for women and girls in the digital age.
As we look around this room, we see a gathering of trailblazers, visionaries, and change-makers, who have made significant strides in their respective fields. The strength and resilience of women entrepreneurs and executives are truly awe-inspiring, and it is only fitting that we come together to recognise and applaud their accomplishments.
This Summit is not merely an event; it is a movement—a movement towards equitability, empowerment, and progress. As you may have observed, our thematic focus encapsulates the spirit of our shared journey. It highlights the challenges that women and girls have faced in accessing opportunities in the digital economy, and it underscores our collective commitment to shatter those barriers and create a more inclusive future.
“At the heart of this Summit is the recognition of the invaluable role that women play in propelling our nation forward. From policy making to regulatory services, from business to fashion, from science to media arts, from entertainment to education, and from health to technology and oil and gas—women have been at the forefront of innovation and development. Your contributions, resilience, and dedication have ignited progress and inspired change in every corner of our nation.
An addition to this annual Summit is the Advanced Digital Skills Boot Camp for women and girls. As a precursor to the main Summit we are having today, the Boot Camp with the sub-theme: The Changing Landscape of Digital Economy in Nigeria, a two-day programme which took place at the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), Oshodi, Lagos, has exposed our children to emerging issues in the digital age, from an introductory perspective.
The Boot Camp was informed by our philosophy that the earlier we catch them young in exposing them to emerging trends in the digital economy world, the better for our children, especially girls and young women and the higher their possibility to want to take career in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) field.
Consequently, during the two-day Boot Camp, which held from September 11-12, 2023, we have been able to introduce our younger generation to such concepts as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Metaverse, Quantum Computing, Green Technology, Cyber Protection, ICT-driven Entrepreneurship, and many more.
Another innovation we are introducing , which we believe will serve as a catalyst for change and which is also connected to the ideals of this Summit is the Women Entrepreneurs and Executives Tech Foundation (WEET Foundation). This Foundation, which we are proudly launching today, is dedicated to empowering and equipping women and girls with the skills, resources, and opportunities they need to excel in the digital economy. As a not-for-profit organisation, our vision is not confined to borders; we aspire to make WEET Foundation an international brand, creating waves of transformation far beyond our homeland.
The WEET Foundation, as conceived, will serve as a cornerstone for mentorship, skills development, and networking. It will be a platform where women entrepreneurs and executives can collaborate, learn from each other’s experiences, and strengthen their capacities to navigate the rapidly-evolving tech landscape. Through mentorship programmes, training initiatives, and strategic partnerships, the Foundation will strive to pave the way for women and girls to break free from limitations and embrace the limitless possibilities that technology offers.”
In concluding, Ms. Emmanuel stated that: “Our journey towards breaking the glass ceiling has just begun, and we are confident that with your passion, dedication, and unwavering commitment, we will overcome every obstacle and transform challenges into opportunities. We envision a future where more women and girls are able to lead, innovate, and shape the future of the digital economy.”