With the digitalisation of our world becoming a core asset to everyday life, the contributors within STEM fields have come into the spotlight in recent years. There have been endless conversations about the need for more female representation in STEM fields, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. With the adoption of technology within Africa at a rapid rate, there has been an influx of businesses entering the landscape to benefit from its increasing commercial movement. However, the fear is that roles which are predominantly occupied by women, will soon be replaced by technology, continue to offer lower pay, and simply not satiate the impact that many desire to have.
Recent years have seen the growth in the number of women pursuing ‘non-traditional’ careers – from engineers and coders to computer programmers and military. Nonetheless, the gross under-representation of women in STEM is still rife, with the number of girls who are completing secondary skills, still lacking the required standards to enter STEM programs. As mentioned in our previous edition, the gender stereotypes and biases have continued to be key elements to the lower representation of women in these fields. Such biases and discrimination have led to malpractices which deter females from pursuing careers in STEM fields as well as numerous other fields. A tireless cycle which calls for disruption.
Other considerations to know about the gender gap in Sub-Saharan Africa
Gender gap in leadership: policy, institutional and social factors contribute to representation and leadership. Whilst many countries have enacted Science, Tech and Innovation (ST&I) policies, which include gender protected objectives, they are not often implemented. Women are challenged by persistent gender biases, in institutions which are led by men in key leadership positions.
Gender norms: The lack of support for women in pursuing a career is met with an expectation to adhere to a more domesticated home life. The pressure to raise a family over pursuing a career often dissuades women from entering a future career.
Access to electricity: access to technology is one thing, but when only 22% of primary schools have access to reliable electricity, we begin to see how wide the problem stems.
How can we support the change we want to see?
Numerous organisations now partner with local educational bodies and governments to strengthen learning opportunities in schools and colleges. Taking this education to the younger age groups would allow students to learn the required skills at a gradual rate and provide a higher chance of achieving higher levels of academia. For example, The Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE) Project, led by the World Bank, works in collaboration with governments to support educational institutions which specialise in STEM subjects and more. True, it is not solely dedicated to supporting women, however it is encouraging the inclusion of students into the fields which have been traditionally isolated to higher requirements.
Additionally, whilst there is stigma towards women in STEM fields, there is also the stigma against subjects such as science and mathematics, which needs to be addressed. Altering the complexity into fun, digestible content would further allow for students to learn and appreciate the subjects which become the gateway into these fields. United Nations World Population Prospects stated that over 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. In regions of Africa which are dominated by rural communities, the accessibility to education and technology is essential to demolishing barriers which have made a tech or science career a long-sighted dream.
How and why did you decide to move into fintech?
I had worked in one of the top 5 banks in the industry for over 5 years and I was curious about the fintech space. I wanted to be an integral part of the emerging innovative technologies which were impacting our way of life. What seems like overnight, we’ve seen its growth as an industry and how it is positively shaping our experience as consumers. With so much continual growth and innovation, I believe that this was one of the best decisions I have made in my career.
How long have you been with Unlimint, and what about the company has inspired you to stay for so long?
I have been with Unlimint for over a year, and I am inspired to stay for much longer in Unlimint because of its culture of employee empowerment. Irrespective of role, gender, or any other attribute, people are encouraged to be involved in the decision-making and implementation process. Its continuous innovativeness and the support I get from the wonderful team that I work with create a positive culture, where team members are valued for their skills and contributions above all.
What do you think the future holds for women within ethnic minorities who would like to pursue a career in STEM?
I believe the future is very bright for women within ethnic minorities that want to have a STEM career. While it may not have traditionally existed because of cultural expectations, there are an increasing number of organisations that offer support through policies and career development opportunities. These will not only protect women who are pursuing a career, but also encourage women to stay in the STEM fields and climb through the ranks.
Truly we need to see a shift in cultural views and expectations for women to not only allow them to enter these fields, but support and encourage them. In addition, a lot more growth and adaptation still need to occur in order to give young girls the opportunity from school to partake in these subjects. Essentially, opportunity needs to be created at all stages of life for the female gender such as specific career development programs, so that we can see a greater representation of women within ethnic minorities in STEM.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Being able to successfully implement digitalisation of payments and revenue collection in several states of the federation. I have also had the privilege of successfully driving strategic partnerships and providing advisory services to several start-ups that have impacted the growth of the digital technology ecosystem here in Nigeria. I’m a strong believer in building and growing one’s network, and this has really helped in most of my achievements in the fintech space.
How do you think we can combat the lack of confidence young girls and women have about having STEM careers?
Combating the lack of confidence starts from within – young girls and women need to develop self-confidence before any external help can be impactful. On the flipside, we need to create an open environment where young girls feel that they can express their interests in subjects or careers, which may have been considered ‘masculine’. We, as women, are excellent executors and managers – this has been proven over time. I believe that our innate multi-tasking skills, resilience, and capability is the foundation that gives us an advantage to excel in STEM.
In addition, female leaders in STEM can also combat this systemic lack of confidence by providing mentoring, career support and seminars for female undergraduates and for new female entrants in the space. It’s important for those of us in the field to pay it forward.
In your opinion, how do you think we can encourage more females within Africa to consider a STEM career?
I think we can encourage more women in Africa to consider a STEM career by sharing the success stories of the female STEM leaders within the space. It is widely known that in Africa, not only are there not many women in STEM but there is a significant lack of women in senior roles. To combat the lack of uptake in STEM subjects during academic years, organisations should create women-specific STEM internship programs. This will go a long way to prove to women that they are also capable of achieving such great success in STEM.
What advice would you give to women who would like to work in the world of fintech?
You need to conquer your self-doubt and invest in your own continuous self-development because the fintech world is dynamic in nature. As women, we are also entitled to have dreams and aspirations, that should not be hindered by societal expectation. Impostor syndrome and societal beliefs may want to stifle you, but always remember that there is value in what you bring to the table.
With the rapid digitalisation of Africa, what advancements are you most excited to see in the coming future?
I am excited about the growth of cross-border payments most especially in the ecommerce space. Cross-border movement is going to radicalise the consumer experience, as people will find it more convenient to make purchases from other countries in the comfort of their home. With the use of fintech, people will pay with their most convenient method of payment and have their good delivered effortlessly. From a business perspective, I believe that this will positively impact the businesses of our Unlimint merchants.