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Did you know that if it weren’t for Ada Lovelace, who is credited for creating the world’s first computer algorithm, how we communicate today could have turned out quite differently?
Ada is one of the many female pioneers who have been instrumental in technological advancements. Still, while women’s participation in ICT industries varies from region to region and in different countries, there are common causes for the lack of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) functions. They include not being promoted, being the primary caregiver at home, lack of confidence despite talent, access to education, and more.
Upskilling the youth
As a global telecommunications company, Telenor remains committed to reducing inequalities. Together with Plan International, we are running the Girls Create Tech Academy in Norway, enabling girls to get first-hand insights into the fascinating world of ICT and the possibilities of a STEM career. In Bangladesh, Telenor’s operator Grameenphone (GP) is partnering with Plan International on a research report to explore the opportunities and barriers for girls in the ICT sector. GP also launched the GP Explorer platform last year, a three-month online programme designed to train university students for the fourth industrial revolution. The 2021 chapter GP Explorer 2.0 is currently underway.
Tasnim and Sharara, graduates from GP Explorer, shares with us how they break barriers as girls in ICT, and their aspirations for the future.
Tasnim Jarin Afra
Education: B.Sc. Software Engineering, Islamic University of Technology. Graduation Year: 2022 (currently in 4th year). Designation: Cofounder, Mainly Coding
Education: B.Sc. Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Islamic University of Technology. Graduation Year: 2021. Designation: Product Developer, Simply Retrofits.
Q: On GP Explorer, what enticed you to participate, and what was the most interesting experience in the challenge?
Tasnim: Students have vast amounts of academic knowledge but do not know how the ICT industry actually works. GP Explorer created a platform to bridge the gap and ensure better transition to work life. This was the main motivation to join GP Explorer. One of the most interesting skills I acquired was the ability to reframe the issue at hand to create solutions. It has helped me to solve problems faster using simple ideas.
Sharara: An introductory webinar was arranged before registration began for GP Explorer, where GP’s Farhana Apu talked about innovation and how it spurred GP Explorer into existence. That caught my attention.
Q: What are the stereotypes about girls in ICT you would like to dispel or change?
Sharara: In the tech industry, there is a tendency to treat women as less capable than men, and their expertise is often overlooked. Also, the stereotypes like women can’t handle pressure and have inferior technical skills need to change.
Q: What have some of the highlights or achievements of your time in the technology industry so far?
Tasnim: I have co-founded an education tech startup named Mainly Coding, which aims to help people learn to programme in Bengali. Creating a web application from scratch with an integrated power online code editor for our website made me realise that with the right team and determined mindset, anything is possible in this era of technology.
Q: In your view, what can people and companies do to encourage women to enter STEM industries and stay?
Tasnim: Women need to see more women as leaders in STEM industries. The best way to do that is by talking to them so that they get interested in this field. There should be women in higher authority so that a female-friendly workplace is achieved. Ensuring every person is treated equally irrespective of gender is a practice companies need to adopt to attract more female employees.
Sharara: There are many talented young women graduating in STEM fields. To encourage them to enter STEM industries and stay, companies can make active policies to create a welcoming culture for us. They should also identify areas to improve to make the workplace female-friendly, such as allowing flexible work hours for mothers and instituting strict anti-discriminatory and -harassment policies. Young women need role models in this mostly male-dominated field, so having successful female employees in these positions will go a long way.
Q: Is there something you wish you done differently, and what outcome would that have achieved?
Tasnim: I wish I participated more in extracurricular activities to network with more people. Other than that, I would not like to change anything in my work life, as every decision and experience helped me grow into the person I am today.
Q: Were there setbacks on your journey to where you are now? How did you overcome it?
Sharara: I have always felt the pressure to maintain perfection in my performance in order to be taken seriously. On top of that, being an introvert sometimes made it difficult to make use of the opportunities that were presented. I overcame these issues to a good extent by working on my communication skills. GP Explorer helped a lot. Though I still have room for improvement, I am a lot more confident in my worth and capabilities nowadays.