Women in STEM
Uzbekistan is determined to become a regional IT hub, to define itself through its digital skills and development of STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This strategy is not just powering its strong economy, with 5.3% GDP growth per annum, but also driving positive social change.
Munisa Rakhimjonova is an expert in big data with VEON AdTech in Tashkent. Her journey into information technology reflects the opportunities that the digital transformation is creating in Central Asia.
Western nations have seen the IT profession develop as a very male dominated environment. Only 11.2% of computer programmers are female, which is ironic as research by GitHub found that code written by women was approved at a higher rate (78.6%) than code written by men (74.6%). A large part of the problem is that women and girls are frequently deterred from even considering IT as a career: a global OECD study found that just 1% of 15 year old girls want to work as ICT professional, compared to 5.5% of boys.
In Uzbekistan the reverse is often true, with jobs in programming and big data analytics being seen by some women as offering opportunities for greater inclusivity in the workplace.
“I don't think that we have any discrimination against women in the IT sector in Uzbekistan,” explains Munisa Rakhimjonova. “In fact, in VEON AdTech I can confirm that the majority of IT leaders and product owners are female.”
Munisa started her journey into IT at school as she saw the opportunities it presented. Studying Information Technologies in Business at Tashkent University, she went on to obtain degrees and qualifications in Latvia and Austria before returning to Uzbekistan to start her career.
Today, Munisa leads teams of data analysts and programmers in Tashkent and she is the embodiment of a young, smart and technically savvy Uzbek IT specialist. Her recent projects have included an analysis of sales patterns for a global mobile handset brand to identify market opportunities, and the determination of optimum location and services for a bank.
In other career paths, Munisa may have encountered more traditional structures that place men at the forefront of business and decision making. Instead, Munisa is following her chosen career in an egalitarian environment in a company with strong female leadership.
Munisa’s experience mirrors that of thousands of women in Uzbekistan who have found their vocation in IT.
Both Beeline Uzbekistan and VEON AdTech have prioritised equality in the workplace in line with the Government’s “National Strategy for Achieving Gender Equality in Uzbekistan”. Women constitute 36% of all employees at Beeline and 40% of its senior management, while at VEON AdTech, which comprises mainly digital and IT specialists, the male-to-female ratio is 70:30.
Beeline Uzbekistan, has also run programmes to support female IT entrepreneurs as part of a project called Tumaris.Tech that brings together women working and doing business in the field of IT across Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. This culminated in a hackathon event that brought together 500 young female developers from across Central Asia.
The focus on gender equality also supports Uzbekistan’s ambition to be a regional IT hub. Under the Government’s leadership, both the public and private sector have put substantial effort and resources into the country’s IT prowess. This has included the opening of the IT Park in Tashkent to create a critical mass of IT talent in a single location, and it is now the home base of Beeline Uzbekistan. Another significant initiative in the country has been the establishment of the Astrum Academy which trains young talent in programming and big data analytics.
Munisa and her peers – male and female – are ready to take on the next set of challenges to make Uzbekistan’s ambitions come true, using emerging technologies extensively to produce local data-driven solutions, benefiting the people who generate the data.
As Munisa explains, “I always say that I love data because through it, we can see clearly. Data provides insights into the trends and current situation of any business. We can gain knowledge by using machine learning, AI and other techniques. Data enables us to predict the future and help businesses reduce their risks. Which is really cool.”
Munisa’s journey reflects the wider movement across Central Asia; one that is more egalitarian, digitally focused and highly ambitious. Not only is this rendering an economic change, it is also causing a societal evolution as well.
“I'm from a patriarchal culture, where the decisions of men used to dictate the lives of women,” explains Munisa. “But that is no longer the case when you are working in IT in Uzbekistan; we are building the future and widening civilization as we use IT and data in all aspects of life. With data and IT the young women of today have been given the freedom to decide for themselves and contribute to the society in ways that were simply not available to women before,.”