Ada Lovelace, a prodigious woman, is regarded as the first computer programmer in the world, yet the discriminatory tension between men and women in the tech industry is ever prevalent. According to a study conducted in 2015, dubbed “The Elephant in the Valley”, two hundred senior-level women has demonstrated how pervasive discrimination is in the tech industry. Eighty-four per cent of the participants reported that they had been told they were “too aggressive” in the office, sixty-six per cent said that they were excluded from important events because of their gender, and sixty per cent reported unwanted sexual advances in the workplace.
Despite the turbulent times, a new initiative has submerged from the Maldives – a hope to all the budding women in the tech industry of the Maldives. Women in Tech Maldives, the first woman based tech NGO, started from a conversation between Aiesha, Shahu and Neesha. The initiative began due to a collective realisation that there are very few women they knew of in the Tech Industry and the organisation would seek to provide the women with a voice, in an industry riddled with stigma and barriers to women.
After countless hours labouring over mind maps and discussions, the three united and officially launched the NGO in September 2018. With roughly a hundred members, the organisation has successfully managed to grab the public’s attention. From providing sessions on game development and security to securing jobs for the members in the organisation – WITMV is actively making a difference to the community at large.
The name itself: “Women In Tech”, had inspired the President of WITMV, Ms Hafsath Aleem. She explained that being part of the organisation has inspired her to teach what she had learnt to the members, to invoke passion for technology in young women despite any obstacles that may be in the way.
With 34% of the members being postgraduates, it is clear that plenty of capable women exist in the field. Yet, as explained by the founding members, many are brushed aside for menial desk work in favour of men with the same qualifications.
Sidelined by male developers, women in the Maldives are forced to endure invasive questions in interviews such as “Can you work late hours?” or “Would you be able to handle pressure by men” or just blunt rejections because “This is work that is only fitting for a man”. The stigma exists because it is expected for the women to tend to their homes, whereas the man should provide for the household. In addition, software development requires long hours of commitment, and it is expected that women are incapable of long term commitment due to childbearing and attending to their children.
This ties in with the narrative that women are oriented towards working for people and communities, whereas men are capable of more abstract problem-solving. However, by that logic, a woman who is an efficient problem solver at home should be no different from a man who solves problems at work.
WITMV further explains that, in terms of the economy, actively encouraging more women to join the tech industry would allow for more well-rounded products to be brought to the table. It is crucial for a successful product to consider all perspectives, and a development team which constitutes of both men and women would allow for the end result to be more needs aware. The product would be catered towards the needs of people. In addition, when there are more girl coders present, new innovations and technological progress would be made at a much more rapid pace. This would allow for the country to become more tech-savvy, hence increasing the productivity of the country which would turn influence the overall GDP per capita of the economy.
With all the proven benefits of gender balance to the STEM industry, it is no surprise that WITMV has already been proactive in their efforts to find solutions to issue at hand. This year, WITMV is expecting to introduce about fifty new female coders, from all regions of the Maldives. While they have already initiated community awareness programs, WITMV also intends on organising a STEM camp for young children as well as conducting workshops to women residing in islands outside the Greater Male’ Region.
Ultimately, the message of WITMV is loud and clear – women exist in the tech industry, and they are trying to be heard in an industry overridden by men. The message WITMV want to present to all budding girl coders is that by working hard and maintaining a consistent work ethic – they are unstoppable and can achieve anything they set their mind to.