– Abimbola Odedeyi, Country Manager Nigeria, Unlimint
Back in 1989, Dayo Akande, a female secondary school student, qualified for a state-level science competition. However, she was made to give the position to a male counterpart because there was only one opening for this sponsorship at her school. At the end of the competition, he was the only one recognized, neglecting Dayo’s true potential as the only one deserving of that opportunity. Now a distinguished doctor, she expressed in an interview how she pursued a career in Sciences, and while on her journey, she still faced more cases of gender bias. She conveyed how inequality creates consequences for the Science, Tech, Engineering and Math (STEM) sector because women who could play a significant role in the ecosystem would continue to be discouraged from participating and maximizing their true potential.
At its core, the concept of STEM encompasses four fields that share a common goal of using innovation and problem-solving tactics to achieve real-world phenomena. As noble as this field is, it is one in which women are grossly underrepresented globally due to social-cultural conditioning where they are led to believe that the career roles are only suitable for men. As a result of the gross under-representation of women in STEM, many women currently occupying roles in this field are either paid less or do not progress as far as men in the same careers. These gender biases influence the career choices of women and their retention in STEM roles, as they are continuously challenged by persistent discrimination and subjugation.
It is important to note that in more recent times in Nigeria, there has been a growing interest in this field by young women and girls, which may be due to the increase in the adoption of technology and the influx of businesses entering the landscape. However, the fear is that roles that are now mainly occupied by women will either soon be substituted by technology, continue to offer lower pay, and not satisfy the potential that many desire to achieve. As Nigeria continues to evolve, especially while facing some of the most complex problems in history like the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for more professionals who can interpret and manage complex scientific and technological issues must increase. Based on this, individuals, organizations, communities, and governments must encourage girls and women to be active participants and contributors to STEM development.
To achieve this, girls must be educated about science and math from an early age. Institutions and governments must invest in early education STEM initiatives to encourage female participation in this field. Organisations can also partner with local educational bodies and governments to strengthen learning opportunities in schools and colleges. Teaching STEM education to the younger age groups would stimulate their interest, enable them to learn the required skills gradually and provide a higher chance of achieving higher levels of academia. 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 new female entrants in the space. Those in the field can pay it forward by exposing girls to role models in STEM.
Societies and cultures must also consciously stimulate a mind-shift concerning women’s roles and their abilities to take on these careers. These societal misconceptions have caused women to overlook some of the many opportunities in this field. Furthermore, by emphasizing the variety of STEM occupations that currently exist such as software programming, financial technology, aeronautic engineering, robotics, geology, among many others, women and girls would be more aware of the different areas that they can explore based on their interests, strengths, and skill sets. Finally, and most importantly, science and tech-based institutions and governments need to enforce stringent policies to promote gender diversity, equality, and inclusion.
In conclusion, while there is still a gap in gender roles in STEM, great strides can be made towards creating a bridge and breaking the bias. Hence, to empower more females in science and technology, it is necessary to implement the right gender-responsive policies while incorporating early STEM education into girls’ curricula. These would help to build the confidence of these young women who would eventually become key players in the fields of science and technology – ultimately contributing to sustainable development in Nigeria.