It is very crucial for the private sector to partner with the education institutes to develop the digital skills of girls from a young age and address the lack of confidence which mainly hinders most women today from entering a career in technology, Microsoft Qatar’s Country Manager, Lana Khalaf has said.
While more women, primarily in the Arab region are now taking interest in technology, many women elsewhere still shy away from digital-related professions. According to global statistics, the technology industry remains to be a male-dominated field, with only 28 percent of proprietary software jobs belonging to women and only 25 percent of IT jobs held by women.
The number of women executives at Fortune 500 companies only stands at 11 percent, and only 5 percent of tech startups are owned by women.
Khalaf believes that empowering young girls now by providing them with digital trainings also means preparing the next generation of women to be more confident in taking up jobs and even leadership roles in IT.
“We already have several programmes and initiatives to equip females to take on future roles in IT. And it’s crucial that we do that in education because if we miss this phase, our job will be much tougher in the future,” she said while talking to The Peninsula on the sidelines of a panel discussion titled ‘Arab Women in Tech’ organised by the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) in Doha.
Currently, Microsoft Qatar has developed a strong partnership with Qatar’s education sector. The company provides every student in Qatar with digital tools such as the Office 365 for free, said Khalaf. She also reiterated the need for integrating a digital curriculum in the education institute.
She added: “Qatar is one of the most advanced countries in using these tools. However, I think we now need to transform into innovation and creation of content which I think still needs to happen. So I think now we need to use these tools to integrate it inside the education curriculum and be able to provide a digital curriculum with the education institute”.
Khalaf is also a firm believer of putting a quota system in place when it comes to hiring women and pushing them towards leadership posts to promote gender diversity in the workplace.
“We don’t hire women for the sake of hiring more women. We need to create enough females capable to take on the roles and push barriers in leaderships,” she said, while referring to how Microsoft Qatar has recently hired its first Qatari woman and increased its female staff from three employees to 15 employees today.
However, things seem to be looking much brighter for the tech industry in the Arab region. According to studies, one in three tech startups in the region are run by women. This is significantly higher compared to Silicon Valley, where female businesses only comprise 17 percent of the total.
Sabine Holl, Vice-President for Technical Sales and Chief Technology Officer at IBM Middle East and Africa, said she found more women in technology leadership positions in the Middle East when she came here 15 years ago, compared to when she was in Europe, to her surprise.
She said: “And it depended on the country, it was really varying. At that time not many here in Qatar, but this has changed. And I think if we look at the percentage, the pool is much bigger but the right answer is how do we activate them to join. I think it’s not something we can change from one day. It will take time and probably a generation”.