Bridging the Gender Gap for Coding

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In a world where disruptive technologies are changing the way people live and work, Raheem Akingbolu reports that in Nigeria, Sterling Bank is championing the cause of female-focused coding training through support for the GirlsCoding programme of the Pearls Africa Foundation, which seeks to empower girls from underserved communities

They were 30 young school girls between the ages of nine and 18, drawn from various secondary schools within the Makoko and Yaba axis in Lagos. From the ample number of applicants seeking to join the GirlsCoding programme to acquire skills that will get them ahead, these were the top 30. Bustling with energy and excitement, they could not wait to start learning the language of computer programmes, applications and websites which is in high demand, and has become a must-have for those who want to successfully navigate the world of tomorrow.

Interestingly, the girls were all chaperoned by mothers, sisters and female guardians to their induction ceremony into GirlsCoding programme on that auspicious day with very fair weather. For mothers, sisters and guardians who all accompanied the girls to the programme, they were confident that the future is bright for their wards. One after the other, as they took turns to introduce themselves, brightness that depicted happiness and fulfilment showed on their faces. A new journey; a journey to the world of technology thus begun.

Sterling‘s Cause

Setting the ball rolling, Sterling Bank’s Executive Director, Operations and Services, Mr. Raheem Owodeyi, congratulated the young and excited inductees, urging them to take full advantage of the training and the opportunity it presents to rise above the challenges that hinder the girl-child from excelling in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Today, you are all starting a barrier breaking journey which guarantees future success, job security and equal opportunities with your peers irrespective of race and gender, only if you are focused. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to acquire and use computer programming skills to solve problems. We look forward to your development as part of the group that will bridge the girls in technology gap and ensure a better balance”, he said.

Owodeyi added that “Pearl Africa Foundation’s mission of providing young girls and women with opportunities for a brighter future through information technology training and skills acquisition align with our commitment to be at the heart of Nigeria’s accelerated development by focusing investment on the education sector for the optimal development of the nation’s human capital.

“We plan to invest more than N10 billion in the education sector by 2020 to provide access to finance for parents, schools and other players in the education value chain to ensure that schools at all levels in the country are among the best in the world.”

In what looked like the apt description of how the bank feels about the girl-child, Chief Human Resource Officer, Sterling Bank, Mrs. Temi Dalley, revealed that one of the things that keep her awake at night is the plight of the girl-child. She likened girls to diamonds in the mud which can only glitter after the mud is removed. She told the girls to open their eyes so that they will be able to see the potentials inherent in them.

“Never give up yourselves easily to men but be yourselves, guide your potential jealously. Be authentic and continue to push yourselves to be better and better. Be a stronger woman to raise a strong woman to bless her generation and impact her world,” she said.

Addressing the mothers, Dalley urged them to see their daughters as princesses and to make them feel as such while also believing in them.

Mr. Ebenezer Ahisu, representing the Chief Digital Officer of Sterling Bank, who spoke on “Transforming Your World Through Technology” at the ceremony, said the bank is keen to change the narrative of having few ladies in the information technology terrain. “There is need to change the ratio of female to male graduates in information technology because most times, it is not unusual to see only one female out of 10 graduating students in information technology from tertiary institutions of learning.”

Ahisu praised the inductees for being among the few that made it to the programme. “We congratulate you for joining the GirlsCoding programme. We want you to have it at the back of your mind that your presence here today means that you have hidden potential that would make you great in future”.

While pointing out that the future belongs to any man or woman who believes in technology and pursues it, Ahisu told the girls that the programme was designed to prepare them for the future of technology where almost everything would depend on machines to function.

“Technology is the future and by learning the basic knowledge of coding at this early stage, the future is yours to explore. By the time you finish this training, there is no doubt that you girls would have become stars among your peers. I challenge you to change the status quo because in today’s working environment, the number of men in technology department of many companies is still far ahead that of women,” he stated.

Saying the only thing that is constant in life is change, Ahisu noted that the total number of data that has been generated in the last three years is more than that what was generated about a decade ago. “We want you to generate data to improve our lives and we are using data to improve the health and transportation sectors of the economy.” He promised the girls that Sterling Bank will expose them to the possibilities that exist in the information technology space.

Motivation

To motivate the girls and build their confidence, Ms. Foyin Olajide-Bello, spoke on ‘Be Yourself-Be the Best’. With her touching speech, she not only lifted the spirit of the girls, she literally charged the atmosphere at the event as the girls intermittently cheered her with applause. Olajide-Bello told them that succeeding in life is not about where they started but where they are going to finish.

“Know who you are, be the best and continue to improve yourself. Stand for something because if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Hard work will always outperform talent if talent doesn’t work. Life will always throw obstacles but with perseverance and doggedness, man will always excel,”

In her conclusion, she warned them against the spirit of arrogance, which she said will make them unable to learn new things.

Responding on behalf of the 30 kids, a young girl who simply introduced herself as Nkechi promised that the participants would not misuse the opportunity.

“We are lucky to make it to this place and you can see that we are all excited. We appreciate Pearl Africa and Sterling Bank for this gesture and I’m promising on behalf of my colleagues that we would make the best use of the programme,” Nkechi said.

Panel Discussion

To further shed light on the importance of the programme, a five-woman panel made up of Blockchain and Software Developer, Ms. Oluchi Enebeli; Business Relationship Manager, Technology Group, Ms. Linda Chiawa; Product Designer, Ms. Gbemisola Abijo; Executive Assistant to the CEO, Ms. Emmanuella Oruche, and Ms. Foyin Olajide-Bello, Technical Project Manager (all of Sterling Bank), discussed how they were able to make it to the top in Information Technology despite the odds stacked against them.

Pearls Foundation

Pearls Africa Foundation is a social enterprise, founded by Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin to promote the cause and advancement of young girls and women with focus on vulnerable young girls living in under-served communities through training in technology, skills acquisition, entrepreneurship, mentorship, and internship placements.

Head of Operations, Pearls Africa Foundation, Mrs. Lillian Idowu, commended Sterling Bank for creating opportunity for the girls to learn computer coding, describing it as a rare gesture. She however asked for the continued support of the bank by looking at what is possible. She told the girls not to allow their backgrounds limit them, saying that beauty is in the mind and not on the face. Idowu asked each of the girls to see themselves as “the next big thing”.