Why Women In Tech Will Exponentially Grow Africa’s Economy

Women in STEM by Dr Kaïs Mabrouk, Executive Director of International Development at Université Central Tunisia

Africa is undergoing major economic and social changes, partly as a result of the rapid development in ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and the growth of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) markets on the African continent.

Following the second annual Women in Africa (WIA) Summit that took place in Marrakech last month, it’s clear that this growth has been thanks, among other things, to the steadily increasing role that women have to play in these sectors. Confidently making their mark in a fast-paced, ever-evolving market, African women in tech are seeing unprecedented representation and, although there’s still a long way to go, this shift can be seen to begin right at the grassroots level.

When it comes to the role that African women play in the world of technology, few countries boast the female representation that Tunisia does. In 1991, the Tunisian Education Act made basic education compulsory for all pupils between the ages of 6 and 16, both male and female, and it’s a standard that has seen clear benefits some twenty-seven years later. Today, women hold some of the most highly praised positions in the technology sector in Tunisia, and the country is setting a definite example for the rest of Africa.

Human resources in STEM remains one of the most needed qualifications on the African continent today, and Honoris United Universities students in Tunisia are leading the way with a 62% female student body. Comparatively, this statistic blows other countries out of the water – in a 2017 PwC report looking at Women in Tech in the United Kingdom, it was found that only 15.8% of undergraduates in the STEM fields there are women. Across Honoris United Universities’ campuses, 49% of the total students studying STEM are female, a positive increase from international statistics.

Throughout Africa, strong female role models and women-lead empowerment initiatives also have a large part to play in the nurturing of young female minds. Sharing in the belief that entrepreneurship and women’s leadership are major drivers in transforming the African continent, Honoris United Universities has also partnered with WIA Philanthropy to support 54 young women entrepreneurs as part of the 2018 WIA Entrepreneurs’ Club promotion – WIA Project 54. At the recent WIA summit, these entrepreneurs were given the chance to expand on their entrepreneurial ideas and interact with industry leaders to gain insight, learn from their experience, and expand their networks. By uplifting these entrepreneurs, encouraging Honoris female students at a tertiary level, and then working to support women graduates across the continent, we hope to continue to increase the number of African women in tech going forward.

Globally,studies show that sub-Saharan Africa boasts the world’s highest rates of women entrepreneurs, at 27%. In their 2017 study, the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs highlighted Uganda (34.8%) and Botswana (34.6%) as having the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs globally. But female-led tech startups still have some of the lowest numbers across the continent, despite a paper by the venture capitalist firm Illuminate Ventures illustrating that technology firms led by women experience a 35% higher return on investment. By encouraging higher female representation in STEM subjects at a tertiary level, Honoris hopes to be laying the groundwork to increase these statistics substantially going forward.

Though there is undeniably still a long way to go, it’s encouraging to note that female representation in STEM subjects at a tertiary level is clearly improving. With initiatives like the WIA Summit championing the role that females have to play globally, and making moves to encourage driven young women with a passion for STEM, there’s no doubt that the future leaders in these ever-evolving markets will boast strong female representation.

Dr Kaïs Mabrouk is the Executive Director of International Development at Université Central Tunisia.