Across the globe, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has changed how we live our lives and has caused a profound shift in human interactions with technology.
Technology has come to the rescue as the pandemic rages on; it provides solutions for businesses, learning, shopping, entertainment, payment and even healthcare.
These technological solutions are premised on the application of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) knowledge. Tools for teleconferencing, learning, e-commerce, payment and medical care; research, testing, management and prevention are all examples of the application of science in the fight against the pandemic. These solutions are being driven by men and women in science.
Every year, the world celebrates women and girls in science and this year is no different. The theme for this year’s International Women in Science Day is ‘Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19’. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, women have played important roles in the fight against the disease.
Sadly, studies show that the pandemic has negatively impacted female scientists thereby exposing the gender disparities in the scientific system.
There have been concerted efforts over the years to inspire women and girls in science. However, research shows that the number of female researchers worldwide is still less than 30 per cent.
While governments need to formulate policies that will help change this disparity, it is important that organisations embark on initiatives to support these efforts.
Tech companies across the globe are continually encouraging women and girls in STEM. One of such companies in Nigeria is Interswitch.
Interswitch Group, a leading Nigerian pan-African digital payment and commerce solutions company, has in many ways provided viable platforms to inspire women and girls in technology. The payment technology company runs equal opportunity and gender balanced employment policies. Its workforce shows a sizeable number of female scientists heading mainstream tech departments. The company encourages cross fertilization of ideas, mentoring and collaborations between the older and the younger scientists. This, it believes, will help raise the next generation of tech women who will help Africa take its place in the fourth revolution.
Another way the technology giant is improving the participation of women and girls in technology is through its corporate social initiative tagged InterswitchSPAK. InterswitchSPAK is an annual pan-African competition aimed at re-igniting the study of STEM subjects among secondary school students in Africa.
It is a fact that there are few girls in secondary school science classes and even fewer at the tertiary level. To ensure a fair female participation during the InterswitchSPAK National Science competition, participating schools are urged to register at least two girls among their best six science students.
With continued emphasis on female students’ participation, there was an 18% increase from the first edition to the second edition. The inaugural edition of the competition had a 60% to 40% share of male to female students. The year after, it was 50.9% male and 49.9% female students’ enrolment.
The InterswitchSPAK has its masterclass session where successful individuals share their experiences and mentor the young students. There is also the Innovation Challenge where the students, including the females, are tasked to find technological solutions to societal challenges. The Innovation Challenge allows the students to develop a sense of responsibility towards finding solutions to the problems around them.
Members of the winning team from the Innovation Challenge undergo internship at Interswitch with the tech experts to experience firsthand how technology solutions are developed.
Issues worked on by the students over the years include public transportation, healthcare, and education as it relates to out-of-school children, agriculture, electoral processes and provision of financial services to unbanked Nigerians.
At Interswitch, when it concerns tech, women are just as important as men.
“As we celebrate our women and girls in science this year, we acknowledge their strength and their contributions to the fight against COVID-19. And we couldn’t be more resolved to support them,” says Cherry Eromosele, Group Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Interswitch Group.