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Women in tech and the imperative for Policy Action

Women in tech and the imperative for Policy Action

By Sharon Alvares, Government Affairs & Public Policy Lead for META region

The middle east region has made notable progress in advancing the inclusion of women across diverse fields, job roles and senior positions highlighting the positive economic impact their involvement has bought to the region. In today’s rapidly evolving technology landscape, diversity and inclusion are not just moral imperatives but also strategic necessities for fostering innovation and driving economic growth.

UAE, KSA, Bahrain and other countries in the GCC are actively implementing reforms and incentives to empower women in the workplace. Driving change requires a focus on education at the grassroot level - within homes, schools, and universities in addition to corporates and governments driving change.

On a global scale, there has been an increase in the number of girls pursuing STEM education over the past five years. However, significant efforts are still required, particularly in providing higher education opportunities in STEM fields that lead to job prospects in the labour market. It is crucial to inspire girls to embrace STEM subjects from an early stage of education by providing equitable access and resources that will be key to overcoming issues of underrepresentation in the field.

As our fragmented, global technologically advanced landscape continues to evolves, so does the proliferation of cyber threats across the spectrum - governments, enterprises, industries, banks, and online systems. No one is entirely immune to these persistent threats, leaving countries vulnerable in an every-changing landscape. This underscores the need for countries to cultivate sufficient talent to tackle cybercrimes and provide cyber security solutions. Governments and organisations that lack adequate resources or don’t have the relevant in-house expertise often find themselves at a disadvantage. Without the right controls, frameworks, and understanding of potential dangers and threats, cybercrime could have a detrimental impact on individuals, businesses, and governments alike.

Projected to reach an annual $10.5 trillion by 2025, the cost of cybercrime underlines the need to safeguard our systems and data. However, organisations are grappling with the common problem of lack of diversity and talent within the industry.

Despite the notable growth in the participation of women, persistent challenges remain: Societal stereotypes and cultural norms often discourage girls and women from pursuing STEM careers, perpetuating the gender gap in the tech sector. Gender bias and discrimination within the tech industry, ranging from pay disparities to hiring practices and workplace biases, result in lower representation and advancement opportunities for women. Additionally, limited access to mentorship and support systems further exacerbate the challenges women encounter in navigating and advancing their careers in tech.

Governments in the region persist in implementing policies aimed at boosting private sector participation and promoting the inclusion of women in the tech industry. There is certainly more that the private sector, particularly those in the cybersecurity and tech space, along with the community at large, can do to advance the participation of women.

Education and skills: Systemic efforts to encourage girls to pursue technology or cybersecurity subjects from a young age haven’t been prioritized. Historically, these fields have always been considered a male domain. Shifting the narrative and driving interest in areas such as cybersecurity, AI, data analysis is crucial, beginning with how we discuss it in educational settings. This could involve implementing workshops in schools, colleges, and universities, as well as collaborative programs for students.. According to UNESCO’s 2023 report, titled “Cracking the Code: Girls’ and Women’s Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM),” in the UAE 61 percent of university STEM graduates are female.

Retaining talent: The technology industry, including in cybersecurity, face a significant gender gap, with women occupying fewer key roles in the sector despite the increasing demand for digital skills and potential for innovation. Creating communities where women can explore and exchange ideas, share insights, and put forth recommendations, is crucial. Companies should incentivize women, and governments should incentivize companies that retain women in technical and management roles over extended periods. Providing flexibility to accommodate women’s various personal and professional responsibilities is essential for fostering gender diversity and inclusion in the industry.

Leadership and closing the pay gap: Though women in senior management positions in the tech space are far and few; companies like ours have made deliberate efforts to cultivate role models for prospective employees and ensure gender-neutral pay in line with industry standard. Compensation should be based on experience and qualifications, especially in technical roles. Establishing equitable pay bands that are competency-based is imperative. Women in STEM earn nearly $15,000 less annually, according to additional data from the Women in Tech Network.

Funding and Support for Women Entrepreneurs: Increase access to funding, resources, and networks for women-led tech startups through grants, venture capital, and incubator programs. In addition, to encourage media representation and public recognition of women in tech as role models, highlighting their achievements to inspire future generations.

Encouraging and employing more women in the tech sector is not only a matter of economic imperative but also a matter of social justice. The GCC has made headway in implementing targeted initiatives and policies to support women in tech; some examples of policies and initiatives implemented in GCC countries that aim to empower women in the tech sector include:

  1. Saudi Vision 2030 - National Transformation Program (NTP)
  2. Women in Technology (WIT) Initiative in Bahrain
  3. Women Leaders in Technology (WLIT) Program in the UAE
  4. TechGirls Program in Qatar
  5. She Codes Initiative in Kuwait

A lot more public-private partnerships and education institutional involvement can harness the full potential of its female talent pool, drive innovation, and ensure inclusive prosperity for all.

Women in tech and the imperative for Policy Action

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