Bahrain’s women in technology are leading the way. What can the world learn? – The European Sting – Critical news and insights on European politics, economics, foreign affairs, business and technology

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Nada AlSaeed, Executive Director, Bahrain Economic Development Board

  • Diversity and inclusion in technology is no longer a benefit, but an essential policy that has become an industry standard.
  • A recent ranking by Meta and The Economist Internet Inclusive Report placed Bahrain first in digital skills training for women and STEM education.
  • A third of the ICT workforce in Bahrain is female, a number considerably higher than the global average.
  • Lack of inherited barriers, lack of stigma in math and science, and a high rate of women enrolling in STEM degrees are some of them.

Some may find it surprising to learn that Bahrain is a global leader in tech diversity, but a series of numbers back it up. For example, women make up 42% of those who enrolled in STEM degrees in the last academic year, a rate that significantly exceeds countries like the United States. Around one in five startup founders in Bahrain is a womanas well as almost a third of the entire ICT workforce, which is considerably higher than the global average.

When Citi decided to open its new global Tech Hub in Bahrain, it was drawn in part by the opportunity to improve diversity: Bahrain could present a healthy pool of female tech graduates. Women then accounted for 24% of the coders they hired, significantly outpacing the average for other Citi tech hubs globally.

What explains Bahrain’s success and how can other countries learn from it?

No stigma of math or science

Some reasons are organic and cultural. Girls have always done well academically in Bahrain: World Bank says Human Capital Index 2020, Bahrain is among the top five countries in the world for girls that outperform boys in terms of learning outcomes, with boys traditionally being more attracted to technical and vocational education. Unlike many other countries, this means there is no stigma or stereotyping around the idea that ‘girls can’t do math and science’.

Their good results in secondary school mean that girls are more willing to consider continuing their education in STEM subjects at diploma level. Nevertheless, it requires collective efforts from the government and the education sector to capitalize on this will by encouraging more girls to enroll in STEM courses. A recent ranking by Meta and The Economist Internet Inclusive Report placed Bahrain first in digital skills training for women and STEM education.

As figures quoted in global reports and rankings suggest that the proportion of women studying STEM degrees is higher than the proportion working in ICT, we still need to improve in translating the pipeline of STEM graduates into the workforce. . As in all countries, many women see the male-dominated nature of the tech field as a barrier, resulting in some STEM graduates choosing an alternative career path while others don’t enter the tech field at all. labor market.

A lack of inherited barriers

The high number of female founders is significant here, as it shows that the tech startup ecosystem is such a new field that there aren’t as many legacy systems and barriers that deter female participation as there are in more traditional sectors. As every other industry becomes more digitalized and tech-driven, from finance to manufacturing to education, we anticipate that this greater inclusion and diversity in the tech space will gradually trickle down to the entire industry. the economy.

Diversity and inclusion in technology is no longer a benefit, but an essential policy that has become an industry standard. This is particularly important for data-centric companies working in AI and machine learning, given the potential for algorithms to perpetuate societal biases embedded in their training data – the more diverse the coding teams, the better. chances of noticing and avoiding any problems.

More generally, diversity in the workplace is essential for a company to understand its customer base and improve the productivity of the economy as a whole: according to research in the United Statesa 10% increase in women’s participation in the labor market is associated with a 5% increase in wages for all.

Creating inclusive and diverse workplaces requires buy-in and support from government, industry and civil society. Initiatives in Bahrain include the Women in FinTech network, a joint initiative of government and industry, and Standard Chartered Bank’s women in technology program, which encourages early-stage startups with training, a demo day, and incubation for winners at Bahrain FinTech Bay.

Facing the future

However, women still face obstacles, especially in moving up the career ladder, as they make up only 21% of workers who earn more than BD 1,500 (around USD 4,000) per month. Government and industry have a role to play in creating policies that ensure women and men receive equal pay for equal work and introduce more flexible policies that allow for a better work-life balance. Female role models matter too, and there are positive signs here: a recent government reshuffle saw four women appointed ministerscompared to only one previously, while BBK (the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait) has appointed seven women to the boards of directors of their subsidiaries GBS, Invita and CrediMax.

Although we still have a lot to do in Bahrain, others can learn from what we are already doing well. Addressing key challenges – encouraging more women to pursue STEM studies, join the tech workforce, and continually upgrade their skills – starts early. Social barriers and stigmas that prevent girls from doing well academically need to be addressed and dismantled, in order to instill self-confidence in girls. As Bahrain diversifies from an oil economy to a knowledge economy, it is essential that we tap into the talents of the entire workforce. Everyone will benefit from more women in tech and women in power.


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