The tech world is still a man’s world and it continues to restrict itself with a “men’s club” image but that image is going to face competition from women and girls in the near future.

Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP) is set to launch a coding academy for women and girls in a joint venture with a non-profit organisation – Women in Tech – this year.

Women in technology are a growing topic of discussion globally and SRTIP is in a bid to strengthen the professionalism of women and inspire technological innovations.

Speaking to TechRadar Middle East on the sidelines of the Women in Technology Forum held in Sharjah, Ayumi Moore Aoki, Founder and President of Women in Tech, said that coding is the most universal language that exists and it is the language of creativity and innovation.  

“There is a biased kind of idea that women are not good for coding and men are better. Our aim is to educate, equip and empower women and girls with the necessary skills to succeed in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] career fields.

“We will be having scholarships from women globally to study coding here. It is also the first academy for us globally and expected to open doors by the end of this year.

The non-profit organisation, which was started three years ago and focuses on four primary areas – education, entrepreneurialism, social inclusion, science and research, has more than 20,000 members globally in 60 countries.

They have opened eight chapters globally and the ninth is in Sharjah, also the first in the Middle East. Next chapter is going to be Thailand in April and Japan in May but because of the coronavirus, Aoki said that it may get delayed.

 “We must add more women to the tech sector if we want them to play an integral role in the ecosystem and ultimately strengthen the industry as a whole,” she said.

(Image credit: Future)

Gender equality

The UN Sustainable development has set 17 goals to transform the world by 2030 and the fifth goal is to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls, with the tech field as one of its main targets.

Hussain AlMahmoudi, CEO of Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP), said that the Park plays a “critical role” in advancing the role of women in technology.

“This is in line with our vision and mission of transforming Sharjah into capital for education, art and culture, and innovation. Empowering women is the overall vision of Sharjah and we believe that technology is transforming the world and creating opportunities and creating sustainable development,” he said.

When gold was the source of income and wealth in the 1800s and oil and gas in 1900s, he said the future is in coding and technology.

“I don’t think we will do justice to our next generations by not really paying attention to these categories. In the UAE, everyone pretty much speaks English and we need to do the same thing for coding,” he said.

Moreover, he said the impact of automation has led to the creation of new jobs for women, which were previously reserved to men since the demand on digital skills will increase by 55% by 2030; thus, it is inevitable for us to enhance women skills to cope with the future.

In 2017, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had launched a “One Million Arab Coders” initiative as part of Mohammed Bin Rashid Global Initiatives (MBRGI) foundation that offers free programmes for individuals interested to develop their digital skills.

Economic benefit

Speaking at the Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020 this week, Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said that by bringing the gender equality of the Middle East on par with more advanced economies over the next few years, there would be $1tr more in output for everyone to share.

“If we wake up with 100% gender equality tomorrow, the wealth of this world, according to the most recent data, would be $172tr bigger.”

Aoki believes that girls and women have much to contribute to STEM areas.

“We are standing on the cusp of a major global shift in how we teach, study, work, do business and more,” she said.

“Even though we have reached gender parity in STEM education, 56% of STEM graduates are women, we don’t see enough women in the STEM workforce. We need to create more STEM career opportunities for women but we have come a long way in the last 20 years,” Najla AlMidfa, CEO of Sheraa, said.

Sheraa was launched in 2016 to make Sharjah as the global start-up hub.

Mariam Bin Al Shaikh, Membership Manager at Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC), said that technology is a key driver in economic change and social change.

“There are incredible women making a change globally but there is still an underrepresentation of women in the sector. Women should be given a lot of leadership roles so, the younger generation can be inspired to be part of this sector,” she said.

Moreover, she said that there is a lot of younger generation who are interested in coding and technology but once they graduate, not all of them are out there professionally.

Equal access to opportunities

“We are trying to give them an opportunity so that they don’t have to depend on another company. They can become their own entrepreneurs,” Mariam said.

Quoting a European Commission study, she said that if women were encouraged in the digital sector, there could an increase of 9b euros a year.

“In the UAE, the leaderships support women in any sector,” Mariam said.

Sheraa CEO said that they have supported more than 100 tech startups and out of that, 52% are female-led startups.

“It did not happen by chance. It is because we were so conscious and committed to gender parity and was part of our KPIs. The 100 startups had gone and raised $50m but out of that, only 13% are raised by female-led startups, which mean there is a gap when it comes to access for capital by female founders.

The global average is 2.2% but we are higher than the global average,” she said.

Aoki admitted that raising capital from VC for women-led startups is an issue but the organisation is creating awareness and also accelerator camps.

“Our aim is a world where every girl and woman has equal access to opportunities in STEM and there is no rational reason why they should not pursue career options in STEM if they choose,” she said.