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 Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Girls In ICT Rwanda was born out of the ITU’s Girls in ICT Day which was celebrated for the first time in Rwanda in 2011. During the planning period for that event, the women entrepreneurs involved formed a group – Girls in ICT Rwanda – which the Ministry of Youth & ICT pledged to support.

The group’s goal is to improve the current statistics regarding the numbers of women in the ICT sector as well as to alter the stereotype held by many young girls that ICT is a man’s field.

Girls in ICT Rwanda consists of women of all ages working in the field ICT including entrepreneurs, professionals and university students. The group has visited a number of schools in Rwanda including Lycee de Kigali and Gashora Girls School. During these visits, the group’s members speak to teenage girls to encourage them to consider ICT as a career option as well help them to understand and appreciate the importance of developing ICT skills in any career.

Recently they organized a Networking Night for female ICT entrepreneurs, professionals and students to network with ICT government institutions, private sector and civil society as well as a host of invited guests from the national and international community. The Guest of Honour was Ann Mei Chang, the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the US Department of State.

Session with Ann Mei

Ann Mei began by telling the group about her background in technology including a story of how, at the age of 24, she became the youngest manager at a tech company. She later worked at a number of companies including Google for 8 years where she managed engineers from all over the world.

Ann Mei highlighted several studies addressing the gender gap when it comes to women’s access to technology, particularly access to internet. She pointed out that ICT is one of the fastest growing sectors and that US Department of Labor projections indicate half of the jobs being created in the next 5 years will go unfilled given current talent growth. She said that women could help fill that gap.

A young lady asked Ann Mei if women have to have an interest in computer programming – specifically coding – and if they have to be a tomboy to work in the tech industry. Ann Mei said that women should study and work at what they are passionate about – not simply what they expect will bring in the most money. She also pointed out that women in tech fields sometimes feel pressured to fit in – to be one of the boys. She advised women to be true to themselves: if you’re a tomboy, great and if you’re a fashionista, that’s great, too – just be who you are.

Another participant asked for recommendations for people who have an interest in ICT but who don’t have time to take long term courses. Ann Mei suggested taking short courses in mobile app development.

One woman asked what needs to be done to improve the education system in order to attract more teenage girls to ICT. Ann Mei said that many universities have outdated course requirements – e.g. an A level in Physics – and that this needs to change. She also discussed the cultural barriers: because the field remains male dominated, the culture in ICT academic and professional environments has naturally evolved to be more attractive to men and boys.


 

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