By Fauya Cromwell
PREVIOUS articles in this series alluded to the meaning of “the Good Life”. This article highlights some of the challenges that women in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) experience as they strive to attain “the Good Life”.
In my teens, I was awarded a Government scholarship to study Computer Engineering in Cuba. Under this programme, students seldom choose their preferred university; therefore, for nearly three years, I didn’t find it odd that I was the only Guyanese woman. I assumed there were others like me scattered around the country; as in the case of my good friend studying Information Technology (IT) somewhere behind God’s back.
Nonetheless, I was well aware of the difficulties faced by some girls in convincing their well-meaning parents that it was perfectly acceptable to allow their unmarried, ‘curfewed’ daughters to study in a distant land, all in the hope of obtaining a better life — “the Good Life”.
University life was the same as anywhere else; the good grades, the bad grades, the late nights studying, the not-so-late nights studying, and the awkward crushes that went unnoticed. In the midst of it all, there was never a sense of alarm or concern that I was the only Guyanese woman. The guys did not make me feel like an outsider; with sheer exhilaration in their voices, they educated me on all the boring hardware topics I wasn’t concerned about; they schooled me on all the lame IT jokes, and introduced me to video games (like Warcraft) and all the latest software (that they declared I couldn’t live without). I wasn’t one of the guys; I was simply another IT student trying to earn a degree.
By the grace of God, and with the support of my family, lecturers, and peers, I returned to Guyana with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering. Whilst working at home, I was tasked with researching global women in tech for International Girls in ICT Day. I was unaware that such a day existed, let alone was celebrated globally on the last Thursday in April every year. I thought the idea sounded nice, but questioned whether it was the intent of human beings to have a day for everything under the sun.
Nevertheless, it was inspiring to read about women like Ursula Burns (CEO of Xerox) and Nelam Dhawan (Managing Director of HP, India), family–oriented women who also had time to run tech businesses. How did they manage to balance it all?
I realized the magnitude of their contributions when I was asked to attend a meeting for students who studied IT in Cuba. As expected, I ran into a few familiar faces. What I didn’t expect was that in a room of twenty-plus IT professionals (most of whom I didn’t know), I would be the only woman. This time around, a sense of uneasiness prevailed – I was the only woman in the room, sporting a vibrant pink top, thus my presence could not go unnoticed.
The words “good evening gentlemen and one lady” echoed in my ears as the male facilitator addressed the gathering. I began adding up all the Guyanese women I knew who studied IT overseas. The total didn’t account for all the fingers on my right hand.
We often say that the struggle is real; well, the need for more women in ICT is real. Guyanese women in ICT form a minority group in a field dominated by men. The Honourable Minister of Public Telecommunication, Mrs. Catherine Hughes, alluded to this issue on International Girls in ICT Day 2016 when she stated that “the majority of girls who do IT at schools do not continue on to university institutions and other tertiary programmes.”
The Good Life entails providing equitable access to opportunities for all; therefore, how can we bridge the gender divide and ensure that women not only have equal access to career opportunities, but are empowered to achieve their goals? According to the McKinsey Global Institute, which is dedicated to researching business economics, advancing women’s equality can add twelve trillion dollars to the global GDP by 2025. Therefore, in Guyana, more professional women in ICTs would significantly contribute towards achieving the Good Life for all. In fact, the CEO of the eGovernment Agency has stated that the Agency is committed to hiring and training competent women in the field of ICT.
Notwithstanding, the realization that there is a “Girls in ICT Day” has caused some men to jokingly say “there should be a ‘Men in ICT Day’.” Hence the question remains: In our quest to attain the “Good Life”, how can we get more persons to encourage their daughters, sisters, female cousins, friends and neighbours to pursue careers in ICT?
Please send questions, comments and suggestions to email@example.com.
(Fauya Cromwell is an ICT Engineer at the eGovernment Agency, where she focuses on matters relating to digital inclusion. She also serves as a Lay Preacher within the Methodist Church.
Reposted from Guyana Chronicle