Nepal’s economy is taking large strides by improving and creating more work opportunities. Nepal tops the list for largest female employment in South Asia with an employment rate of 81.52% (for comparison, the world average based on 181 countries was 51.96% in 2019).
Still, women lag severely behind. According to the Nepal Labour Force Survey 2017-18, the male to female working-age ratio is 100:125, however, the employment proportion is 100:59.
This unevenness in the gender ratio can specifically be seen in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. And it starts from a very basic level. On average, in a class of 48 students studying engineering less than 10 are women. This makes it further difficult and unlikely for women to get into engineering and technical fields; the fear and anxiety of being one of the very few ladies in a classroom prevents women from forming a good network in the educational and workplace.
This data doesn’t only single out Nepal. Women continue to be highly underrepresented and underpaid in the technical field globally. Over the last 21 years, the number of women hired into software engineering fields has only increased by 2%.
When there is a barrier prefaced by gender norms even in entry-level jobs in the tech industry, it is impossible for women to get ahead in their careers. And it doesn’t help when the maximum of leadership roles are handled by men.
An informal survey on some of Nepal’s top IT institutions and companies highlight this disheartening problem even more. Out of 10 positions in upper management, only 2 are women in Deerwalk. Cloudfactory’s 13-person leadership also consists only of two female professionals.
When the data is this weak and unpromising, more and more women stay off this field for good. This lack of diversity is also one of the primary reasons why the tech field in Nepal is advancing at a painfully slow rate. Different backgrounds, experiences and ideas ultimately help make any business or industry stronger. Gender diversity also helps breed higher quality products, companies and sectors.
Where does the problem lie?
The reason why women lag in the technical field starts from our homes.
Women, from an early age, are domesticized. The expectation put into women to grow and eventually take care of the household has been so deeply engraved in our minds that even after completing much higher levels of education, women are expected to prioritize building a family first.
Still, in society, gender norms are prevalent and things and products are marketed at either gender specifically. The STEM industry and its job possibilities are still marketed towards men only.
After somewhat overcoming massive discrimination in sending women to school, another gender norm put into us is to avoid the technical field altogether; the reason being that it takes a lot of time and effort to work in the technical field, so who’s going to take care of the house/family? Also, there are no women working in this field anyway, so why start now?
Married women and working moms are mainly discouraged from working altogether, especially in a field where research, travel and experimenting are the main focuses.
In this way, women being discouraged to join the technical field because of a lack of proper representation for women creates this vicious cycle that we can never get out of.
More than half the women in any workplace feel discredited for their skills and effort; simply because of gender disparity. Any woman will tell you how a customer asks to see a male counterpart for an issue despite them being equally skilled and knowledgeable in their professions.
Why we need more women in the technical field should not be a question raised at all (everybody deserves the same treatment and one’s gender should not be questioned when looking at their competence), but since it already is, here are a few reasons:
- More Skilled Manpower:
We need to catch up to the fast pace that the world is moving forward in. So, we need as many skilled technicians, engineers, developers and managers as possible; men and women. When women continue to be ignored for these fields, especially at a higher position, the possible manpower decreases by 54%.
- More revenue:
Studies show that high-diversity companies deliver better results and outperform companies with less diversity. Fortune 500 companies with at least 3 women in leading positions saw a 66% increase in revenue.
Increased diversity in leadership roles leads to better innovation and improved financial performances. When women have a say in a product and its design, it can be more catered to female audiences while not taking off any appeal from the male audience.
- Greater Balance:
Having more women in a team provides a balanced view of both genders. Issues that females face and identify within a consumer-end get largely ignored when only males are in the working field. Men and women see things in a different light and each has unique ideas to bring to the conversation. When all alternative viewpoints are explored and all possible outcomes considered, the performance of the team is boosted.
- Better Design:
To add to the previous point, a gender-diverse team can create better and more innovative designs. When the consumer-end of the population is significantly female, the design should also be more inclusive and considerate of women.
Let’s take the example of the iPhones, which are getting bigger with each upgrade. It is becoming increasingly inconvenient for people with smaller hands to operate the device easily. On average, men’s hand size is 2 cm larger than women’s. It seems engineers simply didn’t think of a wider demographic.
- More Role Models:
If we want our tech field to grow better, we need more role models and representation for minorities. We need to ensure young girls are encouraged to dive into STEM by hearing stories of other women in the field. More women need to be included in the teaching workforce at higher levels too. Seeing someone just like you in a big or significant position makes you believe you can be there someday too.
To encourage more gender diversity in technical workstations, gender diversity should be pushed as a business priority to unleash the company’s full potential. All leaders should identify the business units that are less diverse and instil a better hiring strategy (without, of course, reducing merit requirements) to become more inclusive and diverse.
In the end, the lack of women in technical fields and sexism in professions stems from a deeply rooted patriarchal system. We need more women in leadership roles and men who are willing to take on more household responsibilities. We can take on any challenge in the world; but only together, all of us.
Nepal Labour Force Survey (2017/18) conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics
World Bank estimation of population of Nepal
PEW Research Centre analysis of 2017-2019