Cover photo: Daily Hive
After headlines scorned Facebook for sourcing a predominately male coding cast, the conversation surrounding women in tech was sparked once again. Whether the Facebook leak is just the latest gossip or actually holds credibility, the speculation itself sparks some questions. Where do women stand in the coding world, and is there a field more conducive to gender-neutrality? Working behind a screen should eliminate gender disparities.
As with many roles in tech and computer science, the problem appears to exist in the infrastructure of societal stigmas around a women’s role in the workplace. Last year, this study found that women’s contributions to open source projects were more widely accepted than men’s, but only when they were not identifiable as women. Why are women still a minority in this industry?
The umbrella issue appears to be a result of company culture translating to a lack of female representation in physical roles. In her 15 years of experience as a developer, Hanh Nguyen, CEO of GlamOutfit, recognized that the lack of young women learning to code makes it difficult for companies to hire female engineers, even at a fashion tech company such as hers. “We constantly try to hire female engineers because they connect better with the product, but it has been really hard because the pool to hire is so small.”
Although a company may want to hire from within the female pool, it goes back to the dilemma of limited availability, as well as lack of experience. Sasha Tailor, software engineer at BlueMetal says, “Almost all of the female hires are for junior roles.”
Tailor comes from a technical background of working in predominantly male environments. During this time, she became aware of certain, societal factors that created these limits for women who code, “including a lack of female applicants in the pipeline,” agrees Tailor. This includes "the immediate need of filling a role versus taking the time to hunt for more diverse hires, for senior roles, and a lack of senior female programmers in current employees' networks (i.e. referrals).”
This lack of female leadership is built into modern society and constructs a broken culture within a company, and within the entire industry. “It is now up to the companies to take action,” says Veni Kunche, Senior Software Developer at Web Informatics and Mapping. “They need to stop hiring only computer science graduates and consider women with non-traditional backgrounds who went through a boot camp. They need to fix their technical interview process.”
Kunche points out that access to organizations that enable women in tech are more prevalent than ever, thus reflecting that while one issue around education is being solved, the larger problem that exists is the lack of education within companies. The developer with 14 years of experience in coding encourages companies “to look within and ask themselves why women may not be applying to their company or leaving their company. Are they looking for people at mostly male dominated events or communities? Is their culture so toxic that women and minorities are leaving and telling others not to apply? Are they forcing them to transition away from tech?”
Whatever the reasoning may be, Kunche enforces that it is not women’s job to fix this broken culture, placing the responsibility on the company’s themselves to take action. Women should, however, remain focused on building each other up, fighting their way to the top and fighting for what they want.
Kunche concludes, “With enough time and resources anyone can learn to code. Don't let society tell you what you can or cannot do because of your gender.”
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.