Diversity and inclusion: Empowering young women in tech for career success

“Hard skills may help you get the interview, but soft skills will help you get and keep the job.”

Soft skills have been generally overlooked among job seekers and employees for so long. People usually focus on developing technical skills associated with their interest areas, while paying little or no attention to soft skills which are equally important, if not more.

Soft skills including communication, teamwork and collaboration, problem solving, adaptability and flexibility help to effectively apply the hard skills to solving problems.

Also, despite the many campaigns aimed at increasing the representation of women in technology (tech), there is more to be done to increase the positive outcomes that are slowly being realized.

For these and many other reasons, the M-FIT project is a timely intervention, organized by Jobberman Ghana in collaboration with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, that seeks to address the two peculiar challenges mentioned in the first two paragraphs. M-FIT which is an acronym for “Matching of Females in Tech Jobs”, was designed to empower and equip young women with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) background, with essential soft skills to make them employable in the tech space.

The Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana (IIPGH), being a key partner and advocate for diversity and inclusion, participated in this roundtable discussion on empowering young women in tech for career success. By the end of this article, we will have an appreciation of the strides being made and the work to be done to ensure a fully diverse and inclusive future.

Citing Ada Lovelace and Catherine Johnson – Ing. Dr. Lucy Agyepong, Vice President, Institutional Advancement, Academic City University College, in her keynote address noted that, women were the first ever coders. Yet women make up just about 15% of the number of engineers in Ghana, a gap that is replicated across the various tech fields.

Continuing her address, she intimated that, women are natural bearers of some essential soft skills, which make them uniquely positioned to provide and execute tech solutions that are much needed in our world. Even in the kitchen, where women are usually preferred to be, the mixing of various ingredients, unpalatable on their own, yet delicious together, depicts the practice of chemistry. Thus, there is no justification whatsoever to allude to women not being fit to pursue STEM related courses and careers.

Stressing the need for all hands to be on deck, she proffered the following solutions that could be offered by various stakeholders to contribute to a diverse and inclusive tech industry.

Education: Girls need to be encouraged to change their mindset from ‘STEM is for boys’; STEM institutions need to breakdown and practicalize their courses, and organizations need to create a work environment that accommodates females from diverse backgrounds; parents need to be educated to allow and encourage their wards to pursue  careers in tech; young girls should be connected to female role-models to help them on their journey upward. She ended by encouraging a concerted effort and advising females to take advantage of the opportunities they have now while guiding other females in their quest to climb the ladder of success.

Dr. Mercy Gardiner O. Tenkorang, CEO Devapps Ltd., Ghana, hinted at the fact that gender diversity leads to an increased growth of the tech industry, through varied, rich, and non-bias views. Other notable contributions diversity makes, include, intuition, product and service development, leading to a higher market share. In Ghana, the digital framework consisting of 5 main anchors: digital infrastructure, digital platform, digital financial services, digital entrepreneurship, and digital skills is full of opportunities that Ghanaian women can benefit from.

These opportunities do not mean a typical young woman looking to climb up in the tech industry will not have her path fraught with challenges.

These challenges, including what may be positive on some days, like concern shown by guardians for their daughter who closes late from work due to work demands and a woman being defaulted to in the workplace to provide ‘motherly’ services like serving food in a meeting, may hinder the equal progress of a female professional.

However, women who distinguish themselves are those who go the extra mile by taking initiative, redirecting their strengths and struggles to project themselves as impact makers in their respective fields, more so as a woman.

Women must also know when to seek expert counsel in seemingly dire situations, rather than giving up, if they intend to be relevant in the tech industry and any other career they may be pursuing. Ending with this quote by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah “Thought without action is empty, action without thought is blind”, Dr. Gardiner advised all to work hard towards their dreams.

The core of the event was reached when Christian Tetteh-Agbasi, a soft skills trainer, quoting “any of us can change our attitude when we decide to change it”, briefly spoke on the importance of soft skills and gave an overview of the soft skills training organized by Jobberman.

A few notable points he made included the following. Though Ghana has historically placed more importance on technical skills than soft skills, soft skills are crucial to every career success. They help keep you in your role after you have gotten it, they can even be considered as survival skills as they are equally important in our lives away from work. Previously labelled technical skills such as project management, basic knowledge in coding, are now considered soft skills in addition to communication skills, emotional intelligence, leadership skills, conflict resolution and many more.

Some of the beneficiaries of the soft skills training were brought to demonstrate the impact the soft skills training had made on their confidence, speaking and interview skills. All of them gave glowing testimonies of the training they had just gone through.

After a coffee and networking break, Daniel Owusu and Mohammed Zacharia presented findings they had made on their research into the low participation of Girls in STEM fields in Ghana.

For the cherry on the cake, a panel discussion constituting Mrs. Juliana Ametorwogo, RNO Engineer, Vodafone Ghana & IIPGH Director of Women in Tech; Esther – Nicole Adomako, M-FIT Project Trainee; Dr. Kwame Annor, Human Resource Personnel; Derry Dean Dadzie, CEO/Founder Heritos Labs and Dr. King David Boison, MD, Knowledge Web Center. Some of the issues discussed included, the importance of encouraging more women into STEM-related fields; most employers considering competence over gender; women doing better in a role they are passionate about, for which reason they must be encouraged to go into such roles; Ghana having more room for improvement when it comes to the structure of the educational system and the flexibility in movement between courses by students and the problem of some women being unwilling to support other women.

Mrs. Ametorwogo advised women to challenge the status quo and seek support while giving some strategies that can be adopted by employers to help retain women in the workplace. Intentionally make women feel welcome and valued in the workspace, giving flexible working schedules if she can still execute her role remotely, promoting the achievements of women in the workplace and excusing pregnant women from the grueling nature of night duties when they are on a shift system.

Soft skills are especially essential now with the introduction and exponential adoption of artificial intelligence in various organizations. Employees and business owners must therefore bring on board, extra skills (soft skills), anywhere they find themselves, if they intend to distinguish themselves and excel in their chosen fields. Human resource professionals must consider diversity in hiring and seek out opportunities to engage employees in soft skills training to help them execute their roles efficiently and in a revolutionary manner.