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Women In Pakistan: Decoding The Future

Published 06 Jul, 2020 02:06pm

Making the tech sector more inclusive of and accessible to women.

10Pearls University conducted the 4th edition of Women Tech Quest (WTQ) on June 13 and 14. This two-day virtual event allowed 500+ tech-loving women to participate in coding, testing, and design competitions and win prizes. The event also featured inspirational sessions and panel discussions led by women techpreneurs.

10 Pearls University was founded in 2016 by the software house of the same name to provide a platform where students and professionals can learn, upskill and network. The university conducts workshops on advanced technologies, including Docker, Angular 2.0 and Microsoft Azure, along with conferences, hackathons and webinars.

WTQ was launched in 2017 to make the technology sector more inclusive of and accessible to women. “We conduct community programmes and technical training for students and professionals to bridge the gap between academia and industry, as well as upskilling for market resources,” says Sana Hussain, Director, Human Capital.

Until a few years ago the IT ecosystem in Pakistan was dominated by men. However, with initiatives like WTQ, more and more women can now hope to build careers in tech. According to Hussain, “women usually drop off the radar when they marry. Although at home, women look for ways to stay connected and professionally active or some want to re-join the workforce and are not confident about the current skill set required in the market."

She adds: "Some of our female employees returned after a hiatus and talked about their friends who are stay-at-home moms but want to stay professionally active. WTQ was initially launched for these women and a lot of stay-at-home moms participate in the competitions every year. The winner in 2017 was a stay-at-home mom and we ended up offering her a job.”

Although the initiative started as a coding competition for stay-at-home moms, WTQ has evolved and is now open to professionals as well as students. Over the years, design, business skills and panel discussions were added to the mix.

“We realised that many women struggle to network and connect with other women in the industry, which is the reason why we added inspirational speaker sessions highlighting role models, especially women who are in leadership positions in local & international technology companies illuminates possibilities for these women.”

The competition invites women to problem solve and acquire hands-on experience in language programming. The Testing Competition presents contestants with a set of objectives to sharpen their database and automation skills and the Design Competition gives them a chance to design a thematic poster using Photoshop or Illustrator.

“Initially we planned to hold the event in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad but we had to turn it into a virtual event because of the pandemic – and surprisingly we had women participating from Abottabad, Gujrat, Peshawar and Sheikhupura,” says Hussain.

This year, WTQ brought onboard an impressive line-up of She-EOs in the tech industry, including Jehan Ara, President of P@SHA and Co-Founder, The Nest I/O; Muazma Zahid, Senior Engineering Manager, Microsoft Azure Global and President, Pakistan Women in Computing; and Maheen Noor Soomro, Director at Mushawar UK & Mushawar Solutions. A discussion on Creating Your Own Beehive was held to exchange tips on how to strengthen professional networking and connect with high-profile individuals.

According to Tech Juice Pakistan, women make up only 14% of the workforce in the technology industry. Things, however, are looking up as many ventures, such as Code Girls and Tech Karo, are making the tech industry more accessible to women from middle to low-income families.

Code Girls is a community-funded, vocational IT and business skills boot camp founded by Faiza Yousuf and Shamim Rajani, to empower women and create better employment opportunities. 10Pearls provides Code Girls with instructors to cover topics ranging from IT to workplace harassment to financial literacy. They also offer scholarships of $120 per student to selected Code Girls every year.

Sadaffe Abid, founder of Circle 2020, also launched Tech Karo – an initiative that offers courses to women on programming, coding and digital marketing. Many of the students who enroll in these courses start their professional careers with internships at Circle 2020; 10Pearls and Circle 2020 have joined hands on many occasions.

“Our instructors collaborate with the teams at Circle 2020 in terms of counselling sessions, content design and facilitate their events at 10Pearls University,” says Hussain.

Needless to say, this is a tech-rific start to a movement. A string of ventures spearheaded by female techpreneurs such as Tez Financial Services, Savaree, MySmacEd and others prove that women may well have officially arrived in the tech industry.

Taniya Hasan is a content marketer.