A group of women in Senegal have started their own tech company in Sacre Coeur, a suburb of the capital city, Dakar. These women are working to encourage more women to enter computer engineering.

The number of women in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields is decreasing. Currently, the amount of women with Information Technology (IT) jobs is below 30 percent. In Africa, this number is lower; although, in Senegal, women hold 35 percent of IT jobs.

The founders of the Jjiguene tech hub intend to change this.

A study performed by Development Dimensions International and The Conference Board found that the more willing companies were to put women in leadership, the better the companies did overall. The top 20 percent of companies in any field had 37 percent of their leadership positions filled by women, and had more female positions elsewhere in the company.

Evan Sinar, one scientist who worked on the study, believes the change in success levels arises because companies that promote women are more equitable in other areas of running the business. Their lack of discrimination in any sector helps them become more innovative and creative, and thus more successful.

This proportionally higher number of female leadership positions does not extend to technology fields though. These fields not only had fewer women in leadership positions, but they also had fewer women who were considered to be high-potential leaders.

Sinar believes this has to do with the subjectivity of selecting leaders in these fields, which allows bias to keep women out of leadership.

This is the environment in which Jjiguene’s founders are working.

Senegal has had consistent internet access since 1996, with 13 suppliers by 2000 and 8,500 subscribers. It has one of the best telecommunications and IT sectors in sub-Saharan Africa, with 3.3 percent of its GDP coming from internet-facilitated business. This is the highest of any African nation.

Coudy Binta is one of the founders of Jjiguene who is capitalizing on this high percentage of GDP. Now 24, she discovered her love for computers when she would visit her mother, a computer engineer for the government of Senegal, at work.

She and three other women founded Jjiguene, which means “woman” in Senegal’s most commonly spoken language, Wolof.

Most of the young women are in their early 20s, and they are trying to boost interest in the IT sector for other motivated women.

Jjiguene offers training courses for women. It also extend its reach to local schools, teaching girls in primary and secondary schools. The available courses include a basic introduction to IT, including Microsoft Word and Outlook, as well as coding. Jjiguene teaches HTML and CSS languages.

While an education alone is not enough to break through the issues surrounding women in STEM fields, Jjiguene also provides a space for women to work on their own projects. The company is there to support them and provide a collaborative environment.

In many IT companies, there are problems with glass ceilings, cultural stigmas and lack of child care. Women are often expected to remain at home, meaning they have less experience with global travel and leadership positions.

All of Jjiguene’s services are provided free of charge, sponsored by Microsoft and local businesses.

Monica Roth

Sources: BBC, Latin Post, US News, IT Business Edge, UNRISD
Photo: US News