Attitudes & Motivations For Women Entering Technology Careers In Kenya

Despite narrowing the gender gap in student enrollment at the primary and secondary school levels in Kenya,

a wide gender gap exists in labour participation, in respect to Science, Technology, Engineering and

Mathematics (STEM) related careers. Course selection is one of the most important career decisions young

women will make. From a study commissioned by Akirachix, one of the things we discovered was that female

enrollment at universities in Kenya stood at 41%. While the female students who are studying a course in

STEM was at 17%, slightly below one fifth of the population. We looked at the enrollment of female students

in Computer Science at the University of Nairobi (1996-2005) and it stood at 14%, while it was 12% for

architecture and engineering, and 32% for health sciences.

These results show that the pipeline of women in STEM is already constricted by the time young women are

in university. To address this problem, we decided to focus on when young girls make the decision on what

careers they would like to pursue. Akirachix commissioned Research Solutions Africa to conduct a study to

understand the factors influencing women’s access and participation in science-related programmes in

Kenya. In particular, the study sought to carry out an investigation on the factors that influence STEM and

non-STEM career choices, these were summarized into three main factors: informational, educational and

psychological.

When we looked at informational factors it was seen that there is a relationship between awareness and

interest in careers in STEM. It is noted that people rarely if ever choose a career they are not interested in.

For this reason it is important to create awareness and ultimately interest in STEM careers among young

girls. This means the first step in increasing the number of women in STEM careers is to create more

awareness of STEM careers. The results suggest that with more information on these careers women are

more likely to have them as their first choice. As Akirachix we are deeply involved in outreach activities in

both primary and high schools in order to create awareness and interest in STEM careers. We have seen that

young children are very interested in technology and would like to interact with it past the level of use. Our

computer club in one of the local primary schools in Nairobi is the most over subscribed club.

When it comes to educational and academic factors we saw that if young women perceived their learning

ability in science and mathematics positively they were more likely to select a career in STEM. This means

efforts to increase the participation of women in STEM careers need to work hand in hand with high schools

so that girls can have a positive attitude towards sciences and mathematics. Of course a positive attitude is

not the only thing needed to perform well, but it is a key ingredient that influences good performance in any

subject. Going hand in hand with this, we believe that young girls need exposure to the different facets of

technology. In Akirachix we do this by running computer clubs in girls’ high schools and organizing

technology events over the school holidays.

The final factor we looked at was the psychological factor; how young girls felt they would perform

competently in careers in STEM. The results showed that when girls have confidence that they will perform

well in a STEM career they are more likely to choose a career in STEM. Many articles have been written on the

confidence gap between men and women. It has been shown that to succeed in any field, confidence is just as

important as competence. For this reason in our effort to increase the pipeline of women in STEM Akirachix

runs different activities that nurture confidence in girls and young women. We run networking meet ups,

organize hack-a-thons, mentorship sessions and host an African Women in Technology conference. We

believe that by creating a community women technologists and facilitating events where we can meet, learn

and share with each other we are building confidence in individual women and in the community of women

technologists. This initiatives serve to attract and keep women in STEM careers and in so doing create a

health pipeline of women in these careers.

Writer: Judith Owigar, Operations Director, Akirachix Association

See the full report here Women Who Tech_2015

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