Keynote Address delivered by Dr. Titilola Akinlade at the induction of new members of NIWIIT (Nigerian Women In Information Technology) at the 2013 Conference of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS).
President, Officers and Advisory Board of NIWIIT, Distinguished Ladies of the Nigeria IT Profession, It gives me great pleasure and I consider it a rare honour indeed, to be asked to deliver this short Keynote address at the formal inauguration of Nigeria Women in Information Technology, an interest group within Nigeria Computer Society, which caters specifically to the interest of Women in this great profession.
Background and Introduction
To state that women are just as good as men in IT or any other field of human endeavour is stating the obvious.
To state that unverified census figures project that there are slightly more women than men in Nigeria is also fairly common knowledge and acceptance.
Why then is there a marked disparity in the proportion, involvement and recognition of women in IT and other technical fields?
Globally, it has been noted with concern that there is a low level of representation of women enrolling in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses in Colleges and Universities. It is therefore not surprising that similarly low level of representation is evident in the work place as well.
What is even more alarming is the high rate of attrition of women in these academic institutions and organizations.
What is responsible?
I would like to offer a few pointers :
a. Attitude of girls towards the building blocks, the foundational subjects like mathematics and physics.
They feel inferior to the boys and would often give up without trying, saying “Maths is too difficult” or “ I don’t know maths”. We need to disabuse the minds of these young girls, and get them thinking “I can”, “it is possible” , “If the boys can do it, so can I, even better”
b. Attitude of the parents
Parents often do not treat their children equally. Some yield to the Stereotype – “that’s a man’s profession”, “are you sure you can cope ?”. Some would not even want to “waste” money on a girl child – after all, she will only end up as a housewife”
Parents need to treat their children, male and female equally. Encourage and empower them to follow their dreams and reach for the skies. Pilot, Astronaut, Professor of Engineering, Professor of Computer Science, Entrepreneur, Technopreneur – so be it !
Young women tend to see IT as a tool, whereas young men tend to see IT as a machine i.e. another gadget or game which they are totally in to, almost addicted to.
Women are likely to ask – “what does it do or what can it do ?” whereas men tend to ask “how does it work?” From how does it work, they go after it as a challenge, never ending challenge, hence it is quite easy for a young man to be labelled a “geek” or “nerd”, Now those are not very sexy or feminine terminologies, so women would want to steer away from such and channel their interest towards safer, vocations that are considered “suitable” for women. E.g. Nursing, Medicine, Teaching etc.
There is also the perception that IT people work round the clock, they have to sleep in the data centre. Women prefer predictable working hours or work locations – not always guaranteed in IT or any STEM profession. It is possible to negotiate an arrangement to work from home (assuming the necessary infrastructure is in place). The women in turn, must be ready to apply the right discipline and actually do quality work, meet deadlines etc. even when physically away from the office.
3. Replacement Cost
The learning curve in most IT environments and systems (hardware,. Software development, telecoms etc.) can be steep and period to attain full professional competency is fairly long. It takes significant time and investment to become a full, competent professional. However, young women entering the profession often who need to take time off or work on reduced schedule to fulfil other desires (like motherhood. Understandably, many employers/investors do not want replace an investment too quickly and frequently, so they try to avoid dealing with those long absences of maternity leave, by subtly discriminating against hiring and investing in women.
Too often women have been forced to sacrifice their careers and move to “safer” endeavours that are compatible with other God-given roles of wife and mother.
4. Lack of Competitive Drive
Women are more likely to collaborate than compete, but the higher you go on the corporate ladder, the more competitive it gets. Women need to learn to fight for their “shirt”, i.e. their seat on the board.
Women should not settle for being the token or symbolic woman in any forum or platform, they should earn their way to the top, become top-grade professionals and industry giants who just happen to be women
What can be done?
The story of Women in IT is not all gloom and doom. There are a few notable international and national pioneers and role models such as:
Marissa Mayer – Yahoo CEO Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO
Adenike Osofisan – Prof of Computer Science and past President CPN Alhaja Sekinat Yusuf – President CPN
Omobola Johnson – Minister of Communication Technology
Ibukun Odusote – Fed Perm Sec Funke Opeke – CEO MainOne Florence Seriki – CEO Omatek Nadu Denloye –Founder Telnet
…to mention but a few, many more are needed.
We need Pioneers/ Mentors to hold the door open “as wide as possible, for as long as possible, to allow other women to march through it” – Karen Brady.
If we take a close look at the lives of some of the successful women in IT and other technical fields, we observe that they are women who never believed for a moment that there is nothing they cannot do. They also invariably also have parents who never limited them in their aspirations, but treated and support all their children equally to achieve their dreams.
These women need to pass the baton by helping to identify, encourage and equip the next generation through mentoring – we need to fish out the next Sheryl Sandberg, the next Nike Osofisan, and Funke Opeke etc.
We need a formal mentoring programme to encourage girls and younger women to think “possible” in terms of IT and not give up on their dreams half-way, no matter the obstacles and challenges.
I noted with delight that one of the Aims & Objectives of NIWIIT is:
3. To promote professionalism, capacity building and good relationship among members through mentoring
I therefore urge NIWIIT to urgently initiating and sustaining a formal mentoring programme which should be stewarded as a Key performance Indicator and a measure of the relevance and effectiveness of NIWIIT.
To the pioneers and older women professionals here, are you willing and ready to pass the baton and be a mentor? I am willing, I am ready.
Thank you for your attention.
Dr. Titilola Akinlade
July 24, 2013
Iloko-Ijesa, Osun State, Nigeria
Dr Titilola Akinlade is a Fellow of the Nigeria Computer Society. She is Project Manager for SAP projects in the West Africa region for Mobil Producing Nigeria, an ExxonMobil affiliate, the international oil and gas company. She has an over 30 year career spanning the public, academic and private sectors with experience in programming, system analysis, technical support and IT implementation