No one can deny how IT is exponentially growing not only globally but also in Pakistan. It’s safe to say that the digital wave is here to stay. Numerous radical and progressive ideas have emerged in the last few years, creating an array of startups. From 2018 to 2022, Pakistani startups raised a whopping $831.2 million in funding.

While that number might appear impressive — and to a great extent, it is — upon further scrutiny, a gloomy picture surfaces. Out of the total amount of funding, women-led startups received a paltry $9.8m — which is just 1.12 per cent.. This share further fell to 0.88pc last year, illustrating a depressing state of affairs for women in the tech world.

Photo: Data Darbar
Photo: Data Darbar

Sadly, this is not unique to Pakistan. In the US, women-led companies were given a scant 1.9pc of the massive $238.3 billion allocated in venture capital last year. Gender-based discrimination and perception bias against women founders in tech is a global issue and must be addressed on a wide scale.

During the 2023 Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations, Nilofar Bakhtiar, while representing Pakistan, urged to have more representation of women in science, technology and innovation. “There is an urgent need to raise awareness for greater female enrollment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related studies and removal of existing gender biases in curricula and parental preferences,” she said at the week-long gathering.

Female co-founded startups get much more funding than female-founded startups in Pakistan, highlighting the bias against businesses led only by women. — Photo: invest2innovate
Female co-founded startups get much more funding than female-founded startups in Pakistan, highlighting the bias against businesses led only by women. — Photo: invest2innovate

In such an environment, 10Pearls, a company helping start-ups and businesses with product design, development and technology, organising an annual tech competition for women in Pakistan is a breath of fresh air.

Held simultaneously in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad on June 17, with more than 700 young and talented women aspirants taking part, the Women Tech Quest provides young women a platform to showcase their skills in coding, testing and design competitions to win cash prizes and gain exposure in the tech world.

The event also includes workshops and speaker sessions by Pakistani women in leadership roles in the field of tech, providing an opportunity for young women to network and learn from their experiences. It is also an opportunity for companies to scout for young talent.

This year, the event featured Meighan Newhouse from the Inspirant Group; Zartaj Ahmed, Director at PSSEC; Mehvish Waliany, the COO of Alkaram Studio; Alice Bhagataney, Co-Founder of Upstream; Meenah Tariq, CEO of Metric; Usra Murtaza, Senior Marketing Associate at Walee; Saba Kalsoom, Senior Manager Markets and Enterprises at Fasset; Sadia Khan, a fintech entrepreneur and Humna Raza, Creative Director and Podcast Host at One8nine Media.

Women participate in three streams: coding, testing and design. — Photo: 10Pearls
Women participate in three streams: coding, testing and design. — Photo: 10Pearls

This initiative first began in Karachi in 2017 but after Covid-19 hit in 2020, it went virtual for two years. In 2022, it was held again but this time in three cities: Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

“As one of our flagship initiatives for gender diversity and women empowerment, WTQ has kickstarted and boosted careers of around 5000 women, strengthened Pakistan’s talent pool, and provided women an established platform to gain visibility and showcase their limitless potential,” Syeda Sana Hussain, Head of People & Programmes at 10Pearls, told Dawn.com.

Mehvish Waliany, the COO of Alkaram Studio with moderator Alice Peter
Bhagtaney, the cofounder of Upstream — Photo: 10Pearls
Mehvish Waliany, the COO of Alkaram Studio with moderator Alice Peter Bhagtaney, the cofounder of Upstream — Photo: 10Pearls

Sidra Imtiaz, a 27-year-old participant, said such initiatives are much-needed in order for emerging female talent to gain visibility and polish their skills.

“I explored a lot of things. Every girl should come here because you get exposure. Not only do you learn a lot but you also find out where you stand by participating in the competition.”

Participants networking at WTQ. — Photo: 10Pearls
Participants networking at WTQ. — Photo: 10Pearls

During the coding competition, women solve problems through programming. For the testing phase of the competition, participants are presented with a set of objectives to test database and automation concepts and for the third and final phase, which is the design competition, participants are required to solve a User Interface (UI) or User Experience (UX) challenge.

Another young aspirant, Hamnah Mairaj, hoping to make a name in the tech world, competed in the testing stream in Karachi.

“We basically test software to assess whether it fulfils all requirements. We remove bugs from it before giving it to the client,” the 25-year-old tester told Dawn.com.

Participants engrossed in their tasks. — Photo: 10Pearls
Participants engrossed in their tasks. — Photo: 10Pearls

This was the third time Mairaj participated in the event. “I have never won but every year I am motivated to participate to learn about communication, make new friends, create networks.”

Just like Imtiaz, Mairaj also believes that WTQ allows young coders, testers and designers an opportunity to assess where they stand in terms of skills.

She urged more women to join since the registration fee is relatively low.

Initiatives like Women Tech Quest are crucial given that last year funding secured by female-founded and co-founded startups saw a drop of 43pc compared to a 27pc decrease by male-founded startups. This number shows that women face much more precarity compared to their male counterparts, even after entering the tech environment.

The participants are divided into two categories — professional and student — in each of the three streams. Each city announces six winners from the competition, two per stream. In total, 18 winners receive grand prizes while the rest of the participants are given gift bags and certificates for participation.

Twenty-two-year-old participant Winona Fernandes is on the path of making herself seen by industry leaders as a coder. Optimistic to work at 10Pearls one day, she attended the event to understand the company.

“The main reason for coming was to gain exposure, especially at a company like 10Pearls. I wanted to know what kind of questions they have in their tests,” she said before adding, “This is my first time participating in any competition. I got a couple of questions right so that was exciting and motivating.”

Participants listening to the conversation between Mehvish Waliany and Alice Peter Bhagtaney. — Photo: 10Pearls
Participants listening to the conversation between Mehvish Waliany and Alice Peter Bhagtaney. — Photo: 10Pearls

“In the future, we plan to add more competition streams within the three branches for diversification. We plan to expand WTQ to other cities of Pakistan (in addition to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad), and also take it global. All this is in line with our purpose to scale outreach and advocacy for women, and to provide mentorship and networking opportunities at an even larger level,” Hussain, who looks after programmes at 10Pearls, tells us.

Follow Dawn Business on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook for insights on business, finance and tech from Pakistan and across the world.

Opinion

Editorial

After the deluge
Updated 16 Jun, 2024

After the deluge

There was a lack of mental fortitude in the loss against India while against US, the team lost all control and displayed a lack of cohesion and synergy.
Fugue state
16 Jun, 2024

Fugue state

WITH its founder in jail these days, it seems nearly impossible to figure out what the PTI actually wants. On one...
Sindh budget
16 Jun, 2024

Sindh budget

SINDH’S Rs3.06tr budget for the upcoming financial year is a combination of populist interventions, attempts to...
Slow start
Updated 15 Jun, 2024

Slow start

Despite high attendance, the NA managed to pass only a single money bill during this period.
Sindh lawlessness
Updated 15 Jun, 2024

Sindh lawlessness

A recently released report describes the law and order situation in Karachi as “worryingly poor”.
Punjab budget
15 Jun, 2024

Punjab budget

PUNJAB’S budget for 2024-25 provides much fodder to those who believe that the increased provincial share from the...