Although women are still facing major challenges in Jordan’s information and communications technology sector, they are upbeat about their future prospects.
By Cesilia Faustina
Tamara Abdul Jaber, the founder of ICT consulting firm Palma Consulting, summs up her view of the role of women in Jordan’s tech sector as follows:
“I believe we are at a tipping point where things are changing in a positive way and I think 2018 will show dramatic changes in the ecosystem.”
As an organizer of the Jordanian branch of Girls in Tech, a global non-profit organization focused on empowering, promoting, and engaging women in technology, Abdul Jaber hopes to get more women into the sector, “whether to mentor them, help them to develop their career, or help them to produce technology in starting their businesses,” she explained.
Nidal Bitar, CEO of the Information and Communications Technology Association of Jordan—also known as Intaj—said he saw a steady, but slow, progress for women in the technology industry. “There is a positive shift in the [female-tech] market but a very slow one,” he said, adding that the association was rolling out programs to increase the number of women in the industry, which is currently 30 percent. “We have our national initiative, which is a three-year program, targeting 1,000 entrepreneurs by 2019 where 35 percent of our target are females,” he added.
Abdul Jaber is not the only advocate looking to create a change in her community. Fellow entrepreneur and member of TechWomen—a US-led initiative to promote women’s participation in the MENA region’s technology industry—Afnan Ali also plays a key role in trying to promote technology for women in Jordan.
Ali is a former engineering student and founder of her own technology academy Eureka. She works on educating children aged 6 to 16 years in engineering and entrepreneurship. By taking part in TechWomen, Ali said it was easier to form a support group for other women in the sector. Just last year, five Jordanian women were selected to attend the TechWomen forum in the United States as the winners of the best tech projects.
“Currently, there are so many movements trying to make a change, like the TechWomen program,” Ali said. “We are connected to the Jordanian TechWomen and I think these kinds of movements can empower women a lot. But most importantly, women need to be more confident. We need to believe in ourselves and believe that being a woman does not affect the way that you [create and manage] a company.”
She added that Jordan has great potential when it comes to the technology industry and could also be a way to enhance women’s participation in the economy. Although women are progressing in technology, experts believe that more are facing difficulties in employment within the sector. Abdul Jaber believes that women are advancing faster in the Saudi tech sector compared to Jordan. “We do most of our work in the region, mostly in Saudi Arabia… where it was difficult for female consultants to travel and work. But things have changed recently,” Abdul Jaber added.
With Saudi vision 2030, the kingdom hopes to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent. This year and for the first time, the Saudi General Directorate of Passports posted jobs for women, including 140 at airports and border crossings. The agency said it received 107,000 applications from Saudi women in just one week, according to CNN Money.
Other advocates for women in technology also expressed their concerns about working in a male-dominated industry. “It is easier for men here to find chances in this industry,” said member of Google Women Techmakers and software developer Alaa Mohammad. “Google offers the [Women Techmakers] program to help women in their working environment. Even in the United States, there is a lack of women in this field because the industry is mostly male-dominated.”
Mohammad added that the biggest challenge she faced within the industry was keeping a work-life balance, particularly when she was expecting her first child. “Between work and personal time, it is quite hard, but when you find people who support you, you can find the power to do it.”
Mohammad stated the importance of having labor laws that support employed women and encourage them to remain in the sector even when they have families. “I think the labor laws play a major role; we need flexible working hours and flexible work environments, so women have time [for both, work and personal life],” she said.
Most women were also frustrated by the lack of initiatives to provide training opportunities for women in the Kingdom’s technology industry. “I see [women in the tech industry] developing rapidly, especially when it comes to non-traditional jobs. My concern is that this rapid development is mainly happening in Amman, but it is not the same when it comes to other governorates. This is where we need to contribute and support women,” Abdul Jaber said.
Bitar agreed, attributing this to the fact that most ICT companies are based in Amman, while most female graduates come from other governorates. “We are encouraging outsourcing for women in different governorates,” he said. “Around 35 percent of companies do outsourcing now, and luckily we have the infrastructure in terms of Internet connectivity, however, we still need more funding and promotion.”
Amani Muaz, a member of Google Women Techmakers, disagreed. She believes there were many training opportunities for women in Jordan, who just needed to actively search for them. “Internet makes everything easy. We need to keep searching for different programs and training opportunities. Most of them are free, but we need to do a lot of research,” she said.
Despite the slow progress of women in the Kingdom’s tech sector, many still consider Jordan, particularly Amman with its buzzing startup scene, as a great platform for women to learn and thrive.
Bitar said Jordan was working to promote entrepreneurship, which could be one of the country’s main assets, especially in the technology industry. He expressed his optimism for the sector, which has received more funding in recent years. “We are hoping to transform Jordan into the digital economy by 2025,” said Bitar, citing the REACH2025, which was launched in 2016 to digitize the Kingdom’s economy. Through the plan, Jordan hopes to accelerate GDP growth by an additional 3 or 4 percent and the country’s digital economy sectors’ revenue by up to 25-30 percent. It aims to create up to 130,000 to 150,000 jobs, and establish as many as 5,000 to 7,000 new businesses in the digital economy.
Currently, the majority of women entrepreneurs in the Middle East are based in the UAE where 33 percent of women-run enterprises that generate $100,000 in revenue, according to Entrepreneur.com, compared to just 13 percent in the US market. But many appear to believe Jordan could be another important eco-system for the region’s female entrepreneurs. “Women in the MENA region are getting more involved with technology. UAE has one of the most because Dubai has very good infrastructure but Jordan will also get there,” Muaz said.