Across the Globe, Women Still Have Less Full-Time Employment Than Men. There's Only One Way to Change That.

Are you interested in the most effective way to empower more young women across the world? Then consider the following. I did and it changed my entire approach to women’s empowerment.

Each year a girl spends in primary school boosts her eventual wages by up to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school increases pay for young women by up to 25 percent, and every 1 percent increase in the proportion of women with secondary education boosts a country’s annual per capita income growth rate by about 0.3 percentage points. Higher education rates translate directly into higher employment levels and, as is widely recognized, when women earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to their male counterparts, who invest only 40 percent.

Given these benefits, why is the primary school completion rate still under 50 percent for the 900 million adolescent girls and young women in the world? And why is the completion rate even worse for girls attending secondary schools? Why, in every region of the world, do men continue to have more full-time employment than their female counterparts?

During my time at The Clinton Global Initiative, where I worked from 2009 to 2012, and The MasterCard Foundation, where I worked from 2012 to 2014, I collaborated with extraordinary leaders to answer these questions and seek out proven strategies to reverse these statistics, from keeping more rural girls in school to increased training and job placement targeted at women. We worked with governments, private and non-profit-sector leaders, and others who could provide resources and give needed attention to existing causes. But even years after exceptional efforts from organizations like The Girl Effect, a movement that invests in women’s health and education to help solve poverty struggles; Half the Sky, a book, movie, and organization by husband and wife team Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn aimed at raising awareness about international women’s issues; and 10,000 Women’s Initiative, an approach by Goldman Sachs providing business education and start-up capital to female entrepreneurs, we still see more women’s pictures in promotional materials than we see strategies to educate and employ them in budget lines.

But we know that women’s employment raises GDP and makes growth equitable across communities, so where are the job creation pipelines for young women in the places of highest unemployment?  

Six months ago, I decided to directly confront this problem by co-founding Andela with an incredible team of experts in education and entrepreneurship. Andela is dedicated to providing education to bright young people hit hardest by the lack of opportunity, allowing them to acquire training that funnels directly into employment. We launched our initial campus in Nigeria, Africa’s largest online market, where remote jobs are an untapped resource for the roughly 50 percent of the youth population that is unemployed.

Andela finds the most promising and hardest-working young women and men in the world and transforms them into world-class software developers. We then seek out US-based companies that are struggling to find high-caliber developers at a price they can afford and match them with our previously untapped developer talent, addressing both youth unemployment and global labor shortages at the same time.

Locally in Nigeria, over half of unemployed youth are young women, yet there are doubts about the their potential in tech fields. One comment on WebTrends.ng observed: “A whole of sacrifices go into becoming a good programmer and I doubt if any woman has that gut … I am yet to see a lady tell me she stayed up all night because her codes didn’t work [sic].” 

Dear Sir, allow me to introduce you to the young women of Andela. They and their male peers rank in the top 95 percentile of problem solvers anywhere in the world. They are in the top 0.8 percent of all applicants Andela receives. (Yes, that’s a more selective rate than Harvard.) And they are, in many cases, outperforming their male peers on technical aptitude tests.

Take Tolu Komolafe, a young woman who comes from a family of four children, raised by a single mother who always told her she was capable of anything that her brothers were. This drove her to study computer science, but she found her studies at university impractical — she learned PASCAL on a blackboard instead being directly trained in coding. So she explored computer science on her own. “My first day at Andela was scary,” she told us. “Everyone looked more experienced, more mature. Then our instructor gave us a test and I finished first. My confidence grew. I thought, ‘I’ve got this, I can do this.’” Tolu is the top of her class at Andela and will soon be employed full time with an international firm as a developer and consultant.

I could tell you more stories about Tolu and her other classmates, like the time they stayed up all night teaching me how to make my code work when I was first learning JavaScript. But let us not measure success in these individual stories, as powerful as they are.  Let’s measure success by how many women we can employ in life-long career paths.

Six months in at Andela, 20 percent of our developers are female. But that is still not enough. So, in December 2014, we launched a recruitment cycle using job posting sites, Twitter, local universities, and personal friends to connect with promising women. Within a month, we had more than 1,300 applicants from across Nigeria. All applicants take an extensive logical reasoning and program-solving test. In December 2014 and January 2015, we conducted All-Female “boot camps,” part of our entirely merit-based selection process. Boot camp is a free two-week training program in which instructors with years of software development experience teach the basics of front-end Web development. It was one of my proudest and possibly most challenging experiences yet to be boot camper number 26 among young women who are the future of technology for the African continent.

Want to see just how impressive Andela’s women are? Try to take the test our applicants take. Or do even better and come join me in Lagos for the next boot camp.

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If you actually want to empower women, extend their education and employ them. Sign up to hire a female Andela developer for your company, whatever your industry is. If you can’t do that, then help Andela and other programs raise awareness by engaging more of the thousands of women who want to begin careers right now via social media. Together with organizations like Camfed, The Global Give Back Circle, and the Population Council, we are building a network of extraordinary female talent that won’t just have an impact on companies they are working for, but who will also lead efforts to extend educational opportunities to other young women. They will reinvest in their families and communities, and they will accelerate growth in Nigeria and beyond. 

These incredible young women want fulfilling careers and they are every bit as sharp, results-driven, and effective as their male counterparts. Maybe even a little more. 

Images: Christina Sass (3)

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