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Egyptian women take on men in technology

As the Egyptian government tries to increase participation of women in the labor market, Egypt’s tech-savvy women aim to get ahead in a sector traditionally reserved for men.

CAIRO — Amid difficult economic circumstances and a job market where the participation of male workers is considerably higher than their female counterparts, Egyptian women are taking new steps in the technology sector, an area dominated by men.

Motoon, which helps develop networks in the technology sector, partnered with the Google Developer Group (GDC) in Cairo to organize a conference titled “Egyptian Women in Technology,” which took place March 10. The conference at the Goethe Institute featured successful women and shed light on the main challenges and obstacles facing them.

Motoon’s Noon Tech program supports women working in the technology field by organizing regular training sessions and workshops.

“There aren’t many women in this field. Is it because we do not want to support them or we do not believe in their capacities? Are there real problems impeding their professional career paths? We are trying to understand this by organizing events that give them a chance to participate, show their practical and scientific experience, and reveal the difficulties they are facing,” Sara al-Sherif, a project manager at Motoon, told Al-Monitor.

She said that women in Egypt need a supportive environment and network, so one of the first steps is to introduce newcomers to the success cases and the latest techniques in the field, as well as connecting them to companies and associations to launch their own projects.

Samira Negm, 30, a participant in the conference, is the CEO of the company that created Raye7, a culturally sensitive carpool app. She told Al-Monitor, “I thought about using technology to serve society by creating the app Raye7 to solve the traffic crisis. The app aims at encouraging carpooling and helping people benefit from their resources efficiently to enjoy safe and affordable transportation."

Asked whether she faced many difficulties as a woman in the technology sector, she said her determination helped overcome challenges and that she got promoted in her eight years of professional experience. “Perhaps I chose a different path from the others, but I succeeded,” she added. Negm has worked in software development, training, process design and project management.

Negm said she was lucky to have a family who supported her in her career path from the beginning. “They understood the importance of technology and taught me to love programming. I am lucky to have a supportive family and a husband who understands the nature of my job and my late working hours,” she said. Negm's husband also works in technology.

Although Negm was appreciated by her employers, Sherif said that this is not the case for most Egyptian women. According to her, one of the main challenges is that company owners do not want to employ women due to the nature of the work that requires staying late and because men are considered — culturally — to be more apt at technology.

“Women feel that society does not help them or encourage them enough, and they often decide to [opt out] themselves,” Sherif said, adding that the work structure, with men at the helm, is not easily adaptable to women’s responsibilities after marriage. Faced with a boss who does not understand women’s increased workload at home after marriage, female employees often end up leaving work once they start a family.

Women also face bias in the job market when it comes to leadership positions and salary. A report titled “Equality Between Men and Women in the Arab Region in a Changing World,” published by the International Labor Organization in April 2017, stated that six Arab countries, including Egypt, are among the 10 countries where the salary gap between both genders is the widest. The Egyptian government is trying, through Egypt Vision 2030, to increase the participation rate of women in all fields in the job market from 4.2% to 35% by 2030. The strategy seeks to empower women and youths in a systematic way that achieves a positive impact in reducing the generation and gender gap.

Although there aren’t any official figures about the number of employees in the technology field in Egypt, the sector is dominated by men.

Bassant Todray, 26, overcame her fears and worked hard to become a trainer at Women Techmakers Cairo, a program run by Google that supports women in the technology field. She told Al-Monitor, “After I graduated, I was afraid of starting in this field, but I learned to believe in myself and my capacities. This is what I am doing with Google.”

Todray graduated from the faculty of information and technology at El Shorouk Academy in Cairo. She currently works as an Android app programmer and developer for Egyptian governmental services, in addition to her work with Google where she organizes events to serve women's needs in the technology field.

She noted that in her first job in a private tech company, she was the first woman working in a team of men. She added, “I noticed that there are fewer women than men [in the field of technology]. I want to encourage more women to choose this field and introduce them to their financial rights such as fair pay and level of salaries. Many of them want an opportunity, even if the pay is low.”

GDC team leader Abdul Rahman Rifai told Al-Monitor, “We mainly focus on developing women’s abilities and help them in the field of technology. We are present in nine provinces — including Alexandria, Faiyum and Minya — and this might expand to other governorates. We are also launching events to introduce Google’s latest technologies, in addition to training men and women to use and develop them.”

Todray added, "Since I found someone to help me, I also want to help women trying to enter this field. Sharing success stories is great motivation. We want to reach high school students and focus more on girls. I hope Egypt will have the biggest number of female employees in the technology field with more female participation in the coming years.”

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