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The Importance of Supporting Gender Equality in the Tech Industry

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Aisha Pandor CEO of SweepSouth

While there has been headway toward greater workplace diversity in recent years, there is still much more work to be done. There is undeniably a gender divide in all businesses, and one of these historically male-dominated industries is technology.

In fact, according to Deloitte Insight, large global technology firms are predicted on average to nearly reach 33% overall female representation in their workforces in 2022. This is slightly higher than 2 percentage points from 2019.

Additionally in Nigeria, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), women make up on average just 22% of the total number of engineering and technology university graduates each year.

While the IT industry often talks about inclusion and diversity, much more work remains to be done. And, more significantly, talk must rapidly become action. Both education and inspiration are required to close the gender divide in technology.

We must provide young Nigerian females with the required skills to seek equal opportunities in the future. However, where should we begin?  We spoke with industry leaders ahead of International Girls in ICT Day to hear their opinions.

Change stereotypes

With conversations on ‘jobs of the future’ happening everywhere, why does it feel like we are not making any progress that is quite definitive for everyone, questions Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, Global Head at Zoho for Startups. “Why does it look like most of the vision-and-mission statements only put ‘gender equality’ on a treadmill and also openly wonder why there are not enough girls in STE(A)M?”

“Knowing the importance of equal gender representation in tech is one thing, and doing what it takes to support, to become an ally, is an entirely different thing,” adds Krishnamoorthy. “To support gender equality in tech, the key players who have the power to propel this movement and those that can translate mere words into actions, have to have infinite compassion, and courage (born out of empathy and kindness) to constantly work on changing the stereotypes.”

Kuppu Zoho

With the assumption that the people in the driver’s seat of future innovation and policymaking already recognise the critical nature of gender equality in technology, Krishnamoorthy makes three recommendations for amplifying their support:

  1. Support equality from early on—early education on diversity and inclusion.
  2. Don’t just stop with being an ally. Create more allies whose words match perfectly with their actions.
  3. Be present, bring your own chair to the table, and be a lighthouse of a mentor.
  4. Invest time and money on training to overcome conscious and unconscious bias; to create more resonant leaders; to create a community of mentors and givers who passionately volunteer and train young girls; to find and bring together more people who are truly intentional and are willing to pass the baton of knowledge on.
  5. Create and make available a marketplace of tech tools for learning and development like robotics kits, sandbox developer platforms, etc., that help in proving that technology can be a leveller.
  6. Empower young girls by helping them enhance their innate emotional quotient (EQ), keeping in mind intersectionality.

“On this International Girls in ICT Day, as we act with more focus and passion, and as we reach for the stars, let’s also promise to the posterity that the magnificent future will be built on a strong foundation of equality and inclusivity.”

Society must be aware of gender biases children grow up with

“When it comes to getting more women into tech or other spaces where we are underrepresented, language and representation matter,” says Aisha Pandor, CEO of home services company SweepSouth.

“We often hear that when females are assertive they’re seen as aggressive, but when males are assertive, they’re confident. That kind of language and those kinds of stereotypes start being entrenched when kids are young and impressionable. For example, as early as at primary school, when girls are studying maths and science, it’s well reported that many don’t feel confident enough in a class with other young boys, to put up their hands to answer questions.”

Pandor adds that as a society we need to be aware of any gender biases our children grow up with, and consciously untrain them, otherwise they occur at such a formative stage of development that they become entrenched and difficult to undo. “This awareness work needs to be done with both girls and boys, without leaving either by the wayside. We also need to highlight more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in everyday life. If girls and women start seeing more women in spaces they wish to be part of, they’ll see their ambitions as relatable and achievable, and feel more encouraged to chase their dreams in this regard.”

Educate, mentor and guide

Despite our progress, there is still much more work to be done; as strange as it may sound, the gender divide in our technology business begins even before girls enter the workforce. “As is the case with many other professions, “technology” still carries many outdated stereotypes, and research indicates that girls are significantly less likely to study technology to consider a career in the sector,” says Dori-Jo Bonner, Strategist at Striata Africa.

Bonner believes this should not be the case, the youth of today has emerged in tech much more than ever before, from entertainment to education, the next generation is introduced at a young age to technology and all it has to offer.

“What young girls do not learn about are the job prospects available in the technology industry and the important need for women to be acknowledged and make a difference in this space. It is crucial that we educate, mentor, and guide young girls about these options because only through this type of mentoring and guidance can we begin to open doors to so many people whose abilities and talents are so sorely needed right now,” adds Bonner.

Break down barriers

Yes, the gender gap is everywhere. And arguably progress has most definitely been made, but there is still a long road to go. In particular, the tech industry is exploding, and the number of jobs available is growing. We need to break down barriers by providing mentors and role models who are women in technology to young girls.

Dori-Jo Bonner Strategist at Striata Africa

Photography for Striata in Feb 2016 by Jeremy Glyn.

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Schneider Electric: Driving the Digital Transformation of Nigeria with Augmented Reality

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Schneider Electric

The future impact of Augmented Reality (AR) will significantly transform businesses and consumer marketplaces in Nigeria, should its adoption be accelerated across various industries and platforms, says Schneider Electric.

As more breakthroughs in technology continue to take root, the group has remained consistent in sensitizing its partners on the potential of AR, being one of the keys to digital transformation in the industry. Companies must therefore capitalize on AR and pursue the opportunities that can significantly boost operational productivity and enhance efficiency.

Speaking on this innovative technology, Belema Koleoso, Territory Technology Lead, Schneider Electric, says although much progress has been made since 2019 when Schneider Electric’s AR technology EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor (EAO) was launched as a global hero offer, which works to enhance data accessibility for quicker and more accurate decision making, there remains a lethargy in the Nigerian market to adopt this technology.

Company campaigns have been run to sensitize clients to understand how EAO uses AR technology to optimize the operation and maintenance of industrial sites and equipment, AR aids effectiveness, helps to optimize human assets, and bridges the prevalent generational skill gaps. In this regard, she specifically highlighted the workforce crises that Schneider Electric foresees in the next 5-6 years, with the aged industrial population as the search for well-trained workers sometimes poses a challenge.

Belema says with AR, companies do not need to lose the experience plants cultivate with the exit of personnel, instead, years of training and experience can be “retained” through iteration of workforce turnover. For example, templates, assets, and manuals can be aggregated into the EOA application, customizable by the client; it puts real-time information at your fingertips, whenever and wherever it is needed, enabling operators to superimpose current data and virtual objects onto a cabinet, machine, or plant. This software combines contextual and local dynamic information for mobile users, enabling them to experience a fusion of the physical, real-life environment with virtual objects. It becomes a mobile work buddy for employees commencing the learning curve and in all reduces operational cost while increasing plant operational efficiency. This ensures that people who are put into the system meet the experience that others who passed through the system left behind.

AR presents completely new ways of executing tasks, with instant diagnosis, contactless maintenance, increased efficiency, and lower cost. Industries, including construction, aviation, consumer packaged goods, energy and chemical, mining and minerals etc., can use EOA to enhance their operations. The cloud-based software rides on any controller to learn activities and aggregates assets, moving past proprietary original equipment manufacturer parent protocols to focus on the tasks.

Augmented Reality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schneider Electric believes increased industry leaders across sectors can therefore use EOA to their advantage, where data drives processes and decisions metamorphosizing to “smart decision makers,” riding on data to make optimal decisions smarter and faster.

In retrospect, Belema says the pre-covid in Nigeria technologies like AR were seen as typically “nice to have.” She says she highly anticipates a time when more people will understand the immense benefit of this innovation and evaluate this technology as a necessity. “Often, the feedback on this is a nice-to-have, after a review of what AR offers. But I will push for people to look at it like this – When you have something that will optimize your processes, it moves from being a nice-to-have to a must-have.”

To drive this renewed mindset, the AR expert opines policies, such as the environmental sustainability policy, can bolster digital transformation. Stakeholders would need to advocate an optimized use of energy sustainably. Enforcement of which would naturally drive the adoption of technology across industries quicker.

“When people see that sustainability policies are enforced, for example, you are penalized for not meeting a target, or incentivized for meeting a target; you would see that the case would be different. Naturally, people will begin to adopt technology to meet their goals.”

She also advocates for Nigerians to consider AR as a total cost of investment that enhances optimal output, as customers are more prone to adopt a baseline approach, where they are satisfied with running their operations minimally without incurring additional costs.

With technology improving and becoming more widely available, it is undeniable that AR will become essential for businesses to thrive in the upcoming years. Schneider is optimistic that its position as a thought leader and industry partner in the digital transformation of energy management and automation is about to gain new ground, enabling the emergence of a new landscape of energy, paradigm shifts for the industry, and a revolutionized experience.

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Climate Change: Between Harriman and Kayanja Ideologies

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climate change

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The debate on climate change is among the most presently discussed topics on the earth’s surface. All these years, I have, going by the commentaries from the Western world, believed that Africa’s non-commitment to the call for global action on climate change was responsible for the real and imaginary challenges confronting the continent.

Making this perceived climate change challenge look real was the recent news report that to tackle the problems, the World Bank Group has committed about $70 billion and urged governments of different nations to set up structures to engage and access the fund.

However, such a belief system recently underwent a positive transformation while listening to Professor Tosan Harriman of Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.

Tosan, who spoke at the GbaramatuVoice Niger Delta Economic Discourse series held in Warri, Delta State, among other things, said; “the truth is this, we saw the hypocrisy of these people (Western worlds) recently when, because of the Ukraine-Russian war, they are not talking anymore about clean energy, rather, we see them go back again focusing on coal, getting out coal to drive the heat.”

“Africa cannot give away its resources because Africa doesn’t need the English of climate change. Our continent is blessed, our continent has resources, and our continent is galvanizing on those resources to ensure there’s a global world order. Taking Africa’s resources from Africa is like committing Africa to another new colonial tendency that will finally incapacitate and make it useful in the global situation of things, and that’s exactly what my argument has been.

“So, quickly, therefore, let’s have our mindset reconstructed about the fact that we are not a danger to Europe and America; we are not a danger to politics of climate change. The only grammar behind climate change is the economy.

“If they take from you the resources that offered you a comparative advantage, it opens them up to their economic value in the context of a global chain, in the context of a global productivity chain, it opens them up to their economic value where they now begin to sell clean energy to people like us in Africa who don’t need it. It’s so important we have these facts properly straightened out before we get into this other issue.

“The world has been talking about clean energy, what we call resistance against greenhouse gas emission. The kind of carbon deducted from the exploration of our crude oil, those are the carbons that we have, and that’s what the world has been talking about. They needed clean energy that would help the Arctic Circle maintain its height and then help the entire ecosystem to be properly balanced along the lines of certain determination that they thought had been there from the beginning and all of that.

“In Europe and America, if you actually desire clean energy, you should not in the 21st century be talking about coal because coal is all about greenhouse gas emission. If you go to the home of the Queen, you will see them using coal, and I keep making this argument that if Norway as a nation has the level of oil we have, nobody will be talking about greenhouse gas, nobody will be talking about climate change, and I have always held the position that every nation should be allowed to grow within the context of his own resources.”

He said that the best the world can do, which is an issue he raised at the Cairo 27th conference recently held, is that we should look at the conditions of African nations, what we call the dependent nations and all of that, dependent on the global world situation and all of that.

“We should look at their conditions, and then we can’t take them; we can’t take from them the issues that directly propel their sustenance; we can’t be talking of climate change when the entire nation of Africa depends on what creates a greenhouse. The best we can do is to scientifically, now begin to look at this resource and then redesign it in such a way as to mitigate the fears that are already being expressed by these other groups fighting for climate change. Those are the issues we raised, and it’s so profound that the world needs to hear us,” he concluded.

Comparatively, while Professor Tosan’s ideology/argument made a whole lot of sense to me, I, however, still recall how Mr Ronald Kayanja, Director of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), spoke on the same topic (climate change) but maintained a different view.

This was at a function on Friday, September 20, 2019, in Lagos to mark the year’s International Day of Peace, which had as a theme Climate Action For Peace. Kayanja’s understanding and postulations about climate change were the direct opposite of Tosan’s argument.

Apart from Kayanjas’ definition of climate change as changes in these weather patterns over several decades or more which make a place become warmer or receive more rain or get drier, what made the lecture crucial was the awareness of the dangers of and warning on the urgent need to address climate changes which he said have become even clearer with the release of a major report in October 2018 by the world-leading scientific body for the assessment of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), warning that in order to avoid catastrophe, we must not reach 1.5 C and 2oC.

In a similar style, Kayanja in that presentation used an analytical method and properly framed arguments to underline how; the current conflict in North-East Nigeria is not unrelated to the changes in climate in that region over time. As well as provides a link as to how; the climate change challenge also sets the stage for the farmer and herder violence witnessed in parts of West Africa and many countries that face violent conflicts in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), Mali and the Central Africa Republic.

He argued that local tensions over access to food and water resources could spill over into neighbouring countries as people seek to find additional resources and safety – placing more strain on the resources of those countries, which could amplify tensions. In these instances, climate change does not directly cause conflict over diminishing access to resources, but it multiplies underlying natural resource stresses, increasing the chances of a conflict.

As to what should be done to this appalling situation, the UN boss said that the UN Secretary-General had made climate action a major part of his global advocacy, calling on all member states to double their ambition to save our planet.

For me, as the debate rages, it is important to underline that Kayanja’s position looks alluring in principle. But then, this piece holds the opinion that African leaders and policymakers must not allow the propositions canvassed by Tosan go with political winds.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Economy: Simplistic Thinking in Africa and African American Communities

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African American communities

By Nneka Okumazie

There is caution in African American communities not to criticise each other to avoid appearing to take the side of others against the community. This agreement, useful in a few cases, has become part of the problem of the community where there is an appearance to condone horrible things.

If the problem is to avoid sounding like others, then another channel to criticize but not sound like others should have been sought.

In the community, the killings of the same kind, even for some who have made it, sometimes over absurd things, meets mute responses or fierce firestorm from the leaders of the community.

Do not criticize has allowed all kinds of comments and behaviours to fester in the community, and it keeps getting worse, but everyone minds their business because black people come first even if it is evil.

There is a limit to protests. There is a limit to heightened sensitivity over the past. There is a limit to ignoring internal responsibility. Proclamation of emancipation is a starting point, but every other way, as a people, to ensure more strength has to be sought. Civil rights are great but there is a need for the kind of economic success of Asia to be strong and not act or be seen as a victim because victimhood is limited.

There is a limit to entitlement for the sake of it, in a time when economic concerns are a priority for all. An individual success story is already old for a people with the majority on the lower economic and social side. A charity that benefits a small number of people in a small community is negligible for people. Speaking out for the sake of it, against oppression by other races, is also limited for a successful black. Whatever feel-good story on history or origin may promote fantasy, but ensures backwardness in reality.

As more blacks, everywhere, are getting prominent and failing in some positions, the other races have been able to lob criticisms without getting racial, something that many blacks do not attempt for each other.

There are streams of simplistic thinking that are static ends for a people, and breaking out of it, as a people is important for progress.

In Africa, most people keep saying the government is the problem or corruption. But there are different countries, structures, regions, states, governments, etc. yet there is hardly a major success story comparable with some in Asia.

Asian success is different people in different sectors making progress ahead and above the government so that government gets to adopt those into policy. If everyone with some responsibility or a few in different fields pursues major progress, the government does not have the power to crush all of them. The government would have to adopt or enable some. The excellence that made those would have them draw others. The government too would promote some policies whose success or adoption would meet the advancement the people are seeking, so it would work.

But what is obvious in most African countries is that the government often has the best answer, which is often really low, so from other sectors, things are lower, so most things are worse. And whenever there is a crisis, it is even far worse, because those who could try have failed, so left to the government, everything goes down.

Government is not the problem in any African country so long they have sectors and people who hold responsibility. Simplistic thinking says it is government.

Some have also said that they should use African religions for swearing officials into the office to prevent corruption. If enacted, some people would find a way around it, so it solves nothing.

There are desperate Africans who migrate to other continents, by the sea, desert and other ways, to find survival. Their move is parallel to professionals who run away too, because the place is bad, as a belief, not because they are actually in some dire situation.

There is a comment on brain drain, but brain drain is not a problem for professionals who are replaceable. Many of them would not do better than what government would do, so leaving or staying makes little difference, so no matter the certificates or certifications, it is not a brain drain if their work had not been consistently aiming at progress.

For many, success is seen as location or position when success is time or other things not related to material or resources. The things that are needed for progress, like courage, fairness, sincerity, honour, and selfless diligence for all that is not available, makes many to point to the wrong things.

[Psalm 144:4, Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.]

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