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BANGLADESH WITNESSES INCREASED PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN TECH

For long, women were being left out of the conversation when it comes to technology. They’re led to think tech is insular and antisocial and they’re barely given a chance to correct those perceptions.

Because of this reason, when we think about ‘women entrepreneur’, the pictures of a boutique shop owner or an organic vegetables grower still loom large in our stereotypical minds.

However a large number of Women are increasingly proving that even in the world of bits and bytes, successful entrepreneurship or corporate leadership can very well happen in the hand of the fairer gender.

There is no formal study available which indicates a solid trend of increasing participation of women in Information and Technology (ICT) Sector. However the situation and the trend in the country’s IT sector in the last few years have clearly indicated entrance of more women in tech jobs.

EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN IT SECTOR

Every year Bangladesh creates around 1.2 million jobs, mostly benefitting men. The latest Bangladesh Development Update suggests that to comfortably reach middle income status by 2021, Bangladesh needs more women to join the workforce.

Study said Bangladesh can increase its GDP growth by 1.6% if female labor participation increases from 33.7% currently to 82%, a figure on par with the present male labor participation rate.

The problem however is Bangladeshi women have never worked outside home until fairly recently, with the current generation pushing the boundaries of tradition. Some mothers now passionately support their daughters in finding a career because they have keenly felt the lack of rewarding professional occupations and have experienced conflict with their fathers to give them a chance to become educated and to choose her own professions.

Working in today’s digital world at a leadership position in Bangladesh is also extremely difficult for women since their job will require them to travel, domestically or internationally, to engage with clients, take appropriate training and participate in international conference.

However with the incumbent government’s main electoral manifesto of creating a Digital Bangladesh and its subsequent programs taken in the past nine and half years, the inclusion of women IT workforce has obviously increased.

Farhana A Rahman, Vice President of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) told Fintech that in 2007, there were only 6-7 women owned companies whereas ten years later the number has become more than 30.

“This has been possible because of the hard labour by the female entrepreneurs. Besides, BASIS has been trying its best to make the inner environment of the workplace more and more women friendly which prompts more women to work in the IT sector.

” But there are still a lot of problems, she said, most of the Bangladeshi parents do appreciate their daughters’ study progress but they are discouraging them to go into the work places after they complete their study.

“It’s like getting an academic degree for a woman is nothing but an added credential to marry her off to a better suitor. So there are still a great deal of social taboos and restriction prevailing in the society which bars the women to do well in the job sector. Those are actually keeping them within a certain box.”

Farhana, who is the CEO of UY System said, she has the responsibility of making decision that is better for the business.

“So I am not really encouraged to give scopes to women more than men just because of their gender. If we have a better male candidate compared to the female candidate, for example the responsibility of a project manager, I am pressurized to entrust this responsibility to the man; not the woman.”

This is because women have more responsibility in the family which sometimes creates hindrances in giving undivided attention to a large scale project, she said.

“This is something beyond my abilities even though I am the CEO of the company. Because of these reasons, women still comprise a very low percentage in the IT sector of the country. Take our company as an example. We have a total of 90 employees but out of those only 4 are women. I am ready to give more scopes to women but they have to earn it through fair competition.”

IT EDUCATION AND JOB

As many as 25 per cent female students have been studying in Computer Science (CS) or Information Communication Technology (ICT) related subjects in over 90 universities and institutions of the country since 2005-2016, said a study report of Bangladesh Open Source Network (BdOSN).

According to the report, after completion of study, only 13 per cent female joined in ICT industry and less than one per cent female who studied in ICT/CS is interested in programming and hardly participated in any competitive programming contest in 2015.

In 2015, BdOSN said, there were 979 teams in the preliminary round of ICPC Dhaka round, in which there were only five teams, led by female. Later, after the study, BdOSN had run several programmes to create awareness among the girls and women help them take ICT as a career.

And after one year, in 2016, the number of team comprised of female reached at 129 on the same event held in Bangladesh. General Secretary of BdoSN Munir Hasan said, under “Girls in ICT” and “Missing Daughters” project of BdOSN, they have been working to bring more girls in the ICT sector.

“Our aim is to increase the profile of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and encourage more girls into STEM career.”

BdOSN, he said, has been arranging many motivational programs for the university students throughout the country. “We are carrying out these programs just to encourage the students in the ICT field,” he added.

Prof Dr Surayia Parvin, former head of computer science department of Dhaka University said while the number of students in tech discipline is increasing, their entrances in the job sector is not happening in line to that proportion.

Dr Surayia said, in the faculty of engineering and technology in DU, the number of female teachers is only 15%. In BUET, the respective number is less than 5%., in other public universities-10% and in private universities-25%.

Only 5% of the girls are participating in different programming contests, she said adding that in the IT job sector, female executive represents only 10% of the total executives. Out of 597 companies of BASIS, only 26 are headed by female entrepreneurs.

“As of now, this is not a good scenario. But we have to change it. The good news is our girls are doing excellent job in the freelancing world. Almost 25% of the freelancers of the country are female and compared to men, women are doing significantly better in online market space”.

Referring a research, she said, woman earns near about $2 more compared to man. “I think this BASIS Women Forum can be an excellent platform to motivate more women to take up the job of freelancing”.

Luna Samsuddoha, who leads the organization named Bangladesh Women in IT (BWIT) said, BWIT has been working for preparing proper policy to empower women in the IT sector.

She admitted that there is a gender gap in technology use that puts women entrepreneurs at a competitive disadvantage. This is significant because the global economy is now a digital economy. Technology allows companies to source their talent, goods and services from anywhere in the world, she said.

Luna said, technology also allows businesses of all sizes to achieve global scale much faster than they used to. “Technology has the potential to be an equalizer. It can enable women entrepreneurs to succeed and to grow their business at the same rate as their male counterparts.”

“That’s why I would like to engage more with girls and women in technology. Our Hon’ble Prime Minister declared her government’s policy of Digital Bangladesh which is a sensational opportunity for us. It has created a vision for success. From BWIT we are trying to facilitate everything for increased participation of women in tech,” she said. ■

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