Diversity and Inclusion in Pakistan’s Technology SectorThe tech industry all over the world is growing exponentially, and it is creating new businesses and jobs. The requirements of global tech employers are changing to incorporate more skilled technical workers who need not have degrees in IT or Computer Science. As the industry is more focused on skills than a degree-holder. 

There are multitudes of new job openings and a large workforce is required to fill the demand. Owing to numerous resources on the Internet, software development and technical skills can easily be self-taught or learned from a vocational training institute, and workers are slowly realizing that they do not necessarily need a degree to get a job in technology. 

The increase in demand is also opening up opportunities for skilled women workers across the globe. Currently, the percentage of women in the technology industry all over the world is only around 28%. In Pakistan, this sector employs over 100,000 people and, according to an estimate, 29% of them are women.

In Pakistan,  there has recently been an exponential growth in investments in the technology industry and startup ecosystems. Only this year, Pakistan has witnessed massive investments in the tech startup industry worth more than the past 6 years combined. 

Naturally, there is a hiring boom and a looming shortage of skilled employable workers. Pakistan’s Tech industry is beginning to realize the huge untapped potential of training women as skilled workers, as they constitute nearly 50% of the population. Efforts are being made in Pakistan to include women in the promising technology industry and STEM fields.

The Present Condition of STEM

The STEM industry globally employs less than a quarter of women workers. A large portion of tech companies still functions on the archaic idea that women are less capable of working in technology than men. This idea could not be more wrong in the world that the tech industry is creating. Women can develop technology products and solve problems as well as any man.

So far, however, the journey for women in tech industries is uphill. In most tech companies recruiters end up exercising an unconscious bias in their hiring practices. Men are inadvertently preferred for job openings based on their gender, making vast gaps materialize in the workforce. In many organizations across the world, women are also underpaid for having similar roles as their male colleagues. There certainly are many gender barriers that have been broken so far, but there are more challenges ahead.  

Regardless of the challenges, women are still pushing forward, especially in Pakistan. Progress is being made in the shape of organizations like CodeGirls, TechKaro, and the likes. After all, it is easy to see that careers like app development and web programming in the tech industry reward workers based on their skills, not their gender. 

In Pakistan, there is a wind of change as multiple organizations work towards the goal of assimilating women workers in tech ecosystems. Pakistan Software House Association (P@SHA), has been working fervently to support initiatives around Diversity and Inclusion and had a committee to work on creating a gender inclusion framework for Pakistani companies. P@SHA also formed a collaboration with CodeGirls to create a platform called ProWomen to highlight women professionals and help them find opportunities. 

Communities like WomenInTechPK, PWiC, and Women Engineers Pakistan are beginning to inspire women to join the tech workforce, by celebrating the growth of Pakistani women all over the world. These communities provide platforms for mentoring and opportunities for work and upskilling to their members.

Creating Opportunities: CodeGirls

One such project is CodeGirls by ConsulNet Corporation. It is an exclusive women-only boot camp with one goal: “to improve the gender parity in Pakistan’s tech industry.” CodeGirls started as a small-scale program in partnership with United Global Initiative and WomenInTechPK. As it continues to grow, CodeGirls welcomes students from diverse backgrounds, ages, fields, and even abilities. 

The program consists of separate phases and workshops that teach students the basics of Web design and Development in phase 1 and other advanced skills, like PHP, Node JS, SQA, and WordPress in Phase 2. The program also just launched Phase 3 which is all about freelancing skills. Besides the tech stack, students are also given a comprehensive knowledge of communication, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, the internet, and workplace safety.

CodeGirls has experienced swift growth in just the three years it has been around. It has been able to successfully partner with multiple international organizations. Most importantly it has graduated numerous alumni who are each making their mark out there in the field. CodeGirls alumni have no problem finding freelance and full-time jobs in their capacity as women in the tech industry. 

By teaching tech skills to women, CodeGirls creates a link between the job crunch in the tech sector and the potential women workforce of Pakistan. Urooj, who is now a Developer and Junior Project Manager at Genetech Solutions, came to CodeGirls with a postgraduate degree in Arts. Imama, a self-employed freelancer graduated from CodeGirls and was able to join the workforce despite a decade of career gap. Mariam Mubeen, a Customer Success Manager at Genetech Solutions working with a US-based client, came to CodeGirls without a college degree. The team behind CodeGirls believes “that when you combine a community of like-minded, ambitious, talented women and a network of strong supporters and allies, the possibilities are endless.”

CodeGirls has a big number of supporters and sponsors and Genetech Solutions is proud to be a prominent sponsor, a top hiring company, and a technology partner. The team at Genetech Solutions also regularly serves as trainers, mentors, and evaluators for the program and has been working closely with the CodeGirls team to ensure exceptional results. 

Girls in ICT Day of Pakistan

On 25th September a workshop on mobile app development marked The Girls in ICT Day of Pakistan. It is part of the Tech4Girls initiative and hosted by CodeGirls with trainers and support from Genetech Solutions. This workshop was the first part of a series and included two tracks, one on Mobile Application Development and another was Introduction to technology through eCommerce. The program was supported by the Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication Pakistan, GSMA, ITU, W4.org, and EQUALS.

The participants were exclusively girls aged between 18 and 30, attending from all over Pakistan. In the feedback comments received after the workshop, all of the participants stated that it was an inspirational experience that helped them learn a lot and explore options towards careers in tech. The feedback suggests that if education and training about technology are given to women in Pakistan, they can seek viable career paths in the tech industry.

The objective of this series of workshops is to provide education about technology to women. The shared mission of the hosts, organizers, and partners is to produce skilled female technologists and entrepreneurs in the growing IT industry of Pakistan through such educational activities and programs. The broader idea behind this initiative is to introduce more women in STEM fields all across the globe.

Endless Possibilities

There is no telling how far the tech industry can go. The possibilities indeed are endless. The tech industry has become a part of our lives since the purpose of tech products is to make lives easier and improve the lifestyles of people.

If tech products are made with social structures like language and gender in mind, their reception is far better. An example of this is the Bykea app, which is easy to use for a lot of Pakistani people because it offers a user interface in the Urdu Language. The percentage of women in Pakistan is 49.2% and they are major consumers of tech products and services. It stands to reason that those tech products should be made with user interfaces and features keeping their whole target audience in mind. For this to happen, it is important for women to be in tech as creators and designers.  

There is the example of the Apple Health app, in which the company did not include important features about women’s health. Following its release, tech giant Apple faced heavy criticism and backlash till they updated the app with features exclusively for women users. On the other hand, Bumble is an example of a highly successful app that is centered around a woman’s user experience. The founder of this app, Whitney Wolfe stated that she developed Bumble because she wanted to build a dating app where women could feel safe, empowered, and respected.

There is also the shining example of Sehat Kahani in the tech startup scene of Pakistan. It is an all-female health provider network in Pakistan targeting areas where women are deprived of basic healthcare needs. Sehat Kahani has identified a gap in Pakistan’s society; that female medical students who graduate and become doctors rarely follow the career path of becoming a practicing doctor. Instead, most female doctors end up as full-time housewives. An estimated 70% of Pakistan’s medical students are women. The solution created by Sehat Kahani is to use video conferencing and telemedicine to link patients with female doctors who cannot continue their practice due to the socio-cultural barriers in Pakistan. 

We must wholeheartedly welcome the idea that educating women in tech can create better user experiences and help the world. Empowered women must be part of a developing experience of which they will eventually be end-users.

The Way Forward:

The path ahead is not simple. Creating space and equality for women in tech is a daunting task, especially in Pakistan. It needs educational facets as well as an understanding of the social structures in Pakistan. Genetech Solutions has been a powerhouse in the movement for diversity and inclusion in the tech ecosystem of Pakistan. With consistent CSR projects, Genetech has joined hands with WomenInTechPK, ngGirls, CryptoChicks to forward the cause of women’s empowerment in the tech industry. Besides the CSR efforts, Genetech Solutions is also an exclusive technology partner of CodeGirls, along with hiring the highest number of graduates that CodeGirls has produced. Right now, the female staff ratio is 35.7%, with 60% of managers are females. 

Based on the numbers, P@SHA also awarded Genetech Solutions for its diversity and inclusivity practices. P@SHA and the PSEB understand the urgency of the employment crunch in Pakistan’s tech ecosystem and are working on launching massive skill-building programs for the local tech ecosystem. The future is set to unfold with collaborative efforts of academia and tech industry experts to fill the employment gap with skilled workers.

Members of P@SHA, PSEB, and leading IT houses of Pakistan, have also started introducing policies that support women in the workforce; such as workplace safety, gender quotas, and leadership training for women. 2021 has seen a massive increase in foreign interest towards Pakistan’s existing tech and startup ecosystem. Owing to the efforts of tech startups and initiatives to educate Pakistan’s population about technology, Pakistan seems set to embark on its journey to become a substantial contributor in software services and the global tech industry. 

If you wish to learn more about Pakistan’s tech and startup ecosystem, see our latest article here. In case you want to discuss a new product idea, reach out to our team here, our expert PMs will set up a free consultation call with you to help you flesh out your idea. 

Do you agree to the business case of Diversity and Inclusion? Tell us your thoughts by commenting below.

I am a technical content writer at Genetech Solutions, one of Pakistan’s leading software houses. I have done a bachelor in Social Sciences, majoring in Political Science, from IBA. Thinking critically and reading is my passion. I like meeting new people and travelling to old historic places to experience life from different perspectives.

Muhammad Abdus Samad