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Women are excelling in the ICT industry which proves the need to bridge the gender gap in order to give women more opportunities to prove their skills in the field. Zain Group has recently published a report entitled “Women in Tech - Bridging the Gender Gap in STEM Fields” to highlight this matter. In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Jennifer Suleiman, chief sustainability officer, Zain Group explains more about the report’s outcomes and her influencing role as a leading woman in the ICT field.

Zain Group released its thought leadership report 2021 entitled “Women in Tech - Bridging the Gender Gap in STEM Fields.” What are the main highlights of the report? And what impact did it have on the industry?

The report focuses on exploring important issues regarding the cause, nature, and effects of the challenges faced by women as related to STEM. Zain’s 2021 Thought Leadership Report provides insights on the gender gap in STEM, highlighting its impact on socio-economic development across the board.

Women account for half of the world’s population and are fundamental to ensuring a sustainable future and peaceful societies. There has been some progress made towards achieving a more equitable society, however, there is still a long way to go and according to the UN, the gender gap is considered “the unfinished business of our time.”

As the number of girls gaining an education increases, disparities associated with access to opportunities, quality and topics they choose to study becomes more evident. It is imperative for girls to further develop themselves in STEM education, as careers in these areas are seen as the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social well-being, inclusive growth, and sustainable development.

Women are underrepresented in the technology sector and even though large strides have been made in STEM education, it has not translated into employment. Studies have shown that even though countries have largely invested in improving girls’ education including STEM education, cultural and societal constraints have hindered this needed transition, impacting societies in a dramatic manner. This gap in STEM employment prevents economies from reaching their full potential as it omits half of the population’s potential and talent to contribute to the economy.

How is Zain addressing the gender gap in STEM?

Zain is continually driving equality programs, recognizing the need to push an agenda that is cohesive, inclusive, and fair to all. This thought leadership report is another tool to highlight the extent of the exclusion of women from STEM-related fields, and what is needed to close the gender gap across the region and beyond.

The company established a number of initiatives that aim to close the gender gap in STEM where it supported the Women in Data Science Conference (WiDS), which emphasized the importance of women’s participation in the global digital economy. The company then committed and achieved its target of certifying over 100 women across its country operations in the field of data science and data analytics.

In Bahrain, Zain launched Girls for Tech Camp in partnership with the Supreme Council for Women and Clever Play, which is an organization that aims to inspire children’s curiosity and passion for STEM. Established in October 2019, the program aims to equip 1,000 girls between the ages 8 and 14 years with 10 hours of training in coding.

As a woman in the ICT field, what are the challenges that you faced to reach a leadership position? And how did you overcome them?

The company’s evolution and its effort to continue to drive the agenda of sustainability provided the opportunity to really understand the role sustainability plays within the context of digital services and technological advancements. This gave me the opportunity to grow with the company and continued to encourage me to drive and lead in this realm. It is extremely important to set the vision of what the function does and consistently revise, adapt and evolve with the upcoming trends and ever-changing landscape. I was able to leverage on the symbiotic relationship of technology and social movements and how they help one another.

In your opinion, how can the status of gender inclusion in the ICT industry be improved?

ICT as an industry must set proper targets in place and ensure that it integrates the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework and guiding principle as it will ensure gender inclusion is embedded within all functions of the business. By creating a clear strategy and end-goal that actively combats gender biases will help in building an efficient ecosystem that has an inclusive, resilient, and equitable direction.

As women bring a unique perspective to problems, marginalizing them from certain fields leads to negative consequences. This risk is evident in STEM, as some technologies might be developed with unconscious biases integrated within those solutions. As such, the inclusion of women must start in the design process of products, services and policy creation. With the world migrating towards a digital economy, we must ensure that when digital solutions are created, women’s perspectives and viewpoints are considered from inception.

What message can you relay to women aspiring to join the ICT workforce? And to the ICT companies in our region?

Determination and drive are key to driving change. We must work collectively as men and women to see change and development. As ICT companies, it is part of our social contract to be as inclusive as possible - not only from and gender perspective but also of people with disabilities and other marginalized communities. Companies in the region must invest in programs that promote inclusivity, monitor and assess impact, leverage on cross-sector partnerships, and spark a movement for others to join and advocate for inclusion.

Find mentors who inspire you and nurture those relationships. Connecting with other people who have been in your position especially in the ICT industry, can really help with achieving your goals and aspirations and overcoming obstacles. ICT companies must continue to drive gender inclusion as they have an opportunity to address the digital gender divide. Technological adoption is moving at an extremely rapid pace, as such the industry must make sure that it is leaving no one behind.

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