Features

Women in IT in Bangladesh face challenges to get connected

6 May 2015
ITC News

The information and communication technology industry (ICT) is a fastgrowing sector in Bangladesh. The past five years in particular, have seen an enhancement in internet connectivity along with an increase in foreign investment in the sector, with more than 200,000 ICT business process outsourcing professionals in the country.

The ‘One Bangladesh Vision’ programme launched by the Bangladesh Association of Software & Information Services (BASIS) in 2014, aims to reach US$ 1 billion worth of IT services and software exports by 2018, creating employment opportunities for 1 million trained IT professionals.

However, in a country where over 50% of the population is female, there is a significant lack of women entrepreneurs and IT professionals. Despite the increasing number of women entering the workforce, the industry remains far behind in terms of equal participation. Only 13% of the workforce in the IT sector are women, most of them in junior or mid-level management positions, and only 1% of the ICT companies in the country are led by women.

BARRIERS TO PROGRESS

Environmental and social barriers – including stereotypes, gender bias, and the male-dominated climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities – continue to block women’s progress in the IT sector.

Sabrina Akter is a software engineer with more than eight years of experience. For her, starting work in the ICT sector was not easy. Friends and family did not see IT as a field for women and she herself found the working environment unsuitable: there was a lack of security and no separate washroom facilities for males and females.

Bangladeshi women have never worked outside home until fairly recently, with the current generation pushing the boundaries of tradition. Some mothers now passionately support their daughters in finding a career because they have keenly felt the lack of rewarding professional occupations and have experienced conflict with their fathers to give them a chance to become educated and to choose her own professions.

Working in today’s digital world at a leadership position in Bangladesh is also extremely difficult for women since their job will require them to travel, domestically or internationally, to engage with clients, take appropriate training and participate in international conferences.

‘For many women, these requirements simply cannot be met as they face tremendous pressure from their parents and husbands who prevent them from traveling on their own,’ says Afreen Hossain, founder of ‘Code It, Girl!’, a community service that creates coding awareness among young girls to make them interested to learn programming languages.

‘A very small percentage of girls join engineering schools, and even fewer of them get to work in the field. Our goal is to create an online community where many students can get engaged and get help from software professionals working in the industry. We also organise training sessions and webinars to help them with the resources they need,’ says Ms. Hossain.

Credibility is another issue women face when they try to get into the IT sector. This starts with their experience in the academe where it is quite often said that women do not to have brains for this field because technical subjects, such as software engineering and development, are not topics for girls.

‘In any job interview or women initiative, the first question always is whether you are skilled enough to do the job and whether you have the time that is required given that you are a woman,’ Ms. Hossain said.
‘It is also hard for women entrepreneurs to gain access to finance, and most of the time, it is literally impossible without a male guarantor.’

The Bright Side

Despite the issues that women in IT are facing, the sector’s female community see many positive prospects and potential advantages for them in the IT industry, which were shared during a Focus Group on Women in IT organized by the ITC NTF III Bangladesh project last December.

Technology is changing constantly and there are big opportunities for those who can adapt quickly. Technological advancements can help to counterbalance the hierarchy of business and male-dominated society in Bangladesh by enabling women to freelance and work from home, allowing them to manage their families and careers at the same time.

‘Technical skills are globally relevant and the IT skills that women are developing can be tools that would enable them to work in and travel to other markets, opening up opportunities that would be otherwise closed to them,’ says Ms. Hossain.

The IT sector offers a large number of varied and creative jobs that enable women to earn money and support their families on these wages, and this empowerment marks great changes for the women in Bangladesh, allowing them to become more independent.

New Horizons

If Bangladesh wants to realize the growth potential of its IT & ITES industry against other leading offshore services destinations, it is crucial to engage girls and young women while they are still in school, offering them specific technology trainings, while providing access to finance for women entrepreneurs.

If Bangladesh wants to realize the growth potential of its IT & ITES industry against other leading offshore services destinations, it is crucial to engage girls and young women while they are still in school, offering them specific technology trainings, while providing access to finance for women entrepreneurs.

Policymakers should take action to spur the IT industry and change the working and security environment, enacting policies that would foster gender equality and inclusive working environments to make the sector more attractive to women.

Social awareness campaigns can also help to position the IT industry as a great field of work for women due to its flexibility and variety of jobs. Such initiatives can likewise encourage males to support their wives, daughters and sisters by making families better understand the industry and its benefits to women who opt to have a career in this field.

As countries embrace a knowledgebased economy, information and communication technology plays a key role in development, and increasing the representation and participation of women entrepreneurs and IT professionals will help to advance Bangladesh’s goal of making a mark in the IT and ITES industry.