By: Business Call to Action
Constantly innovating, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is ravenous for skilled labour. Despite its appetite, the sector still suffers workforce shortages, particularly in relation to women. In line with broader European trends, Turkish ICT companies struggle to recruit and retain adequate female talent. The shortage of women in Turkey’s ICT sector is especially acute: the percentage of women employed in ICT in Turkey decreased from 20% to 10% from 2008 to 2018. Women in Turkey face a regional imbalance in access to ICT training and information, as well as traditional social norms that may preclude women from the workforce – and they have few role models to look to for guidance.
To overcome this gender gap and avert a talent shortage in the industry, Turkcell – a digital operator headquartered in Istanbul – partnered with Turkey’s highest legal entity representing the private sector, the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchange of Turkey (TOBB), to initiate the Women Developers of the Future project. The project provides training, mentorship and job opportunities to thousands of low-income women across Turkey who want to develop their skills and pursue a career in the ICT sector.
Project participants begin by completing 60 hours of in-class training and 179 hours of online mobile application development and entrepreneurship courses. They then follow one of two paths: either developing and launching their own mobile apps as entrepreneurs, or conducting end-user tests of digital services and solutions as hired testers for Turkcell.
The flexible, tailored content of the coding classes makes the journey from novice to entrepreneur or tester achievable for participants, regardless of location or previous experience. For many women, Women Developers of the Future is not only their first interaction with coding, but their first ever opportunity to work: 83% of participants have not received any previous coding training and 75% have never worked.
Other participants had simply not been able to find suitable channels through which to hone their coding skills. “When I wanted to start learning Android development, the first problem I encountered was the lack of Turkish content,” says Hasibe Zafer, a project participant who now works at Turkcell as a software engineer. “I joined the project to enrol in online courses and training in Turkish. After the training I became a university ambassador for Women Developers of the Future, eventually becoming a volunteer lecturer to 80 women involved in the project.”
Since Women Developers of the Future launched in 2017, participants have keyed in 2.5m lines of code and developed more than 200 mobile apps. Look, an AI-based app used for early diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy, and DIGI-TAR, an app that provides the live weight of cattle using image analysis, are among the most successful applications to come out of the programme. Participants who went on to work as testers have also achieved success: since January 2018, testers have reported more than 8,187 bugs and suggested more than 1,125 features for Turkcell’s digital services and solutions.
Due to the project’s achievements, it quickly evolved beyond a corporate social responsibility initiative into a full-fledged inclusive business model within Turkcell’s core business. Emphasising the key role project participants play in delivering excellent customer experience to users around the world, Turkcell CEO Murat Erkan remarked: “Thanks to its unique model, this project has not only spurred inclusive and sustainable development, but also contributed valuable advances in the way we do business every day.”
Further growth is already underway. Turkcell aims to provide training to a total of 5,000 low-income women by 2021 and employ 100 women annually as test experts. By the end of 2019, Turkcell will also begin offering its model to fellow member companies in TOBB’s member network of 365 chambers of commerce and commodity exchanges across Turkey.
Women Developers of the Future addresses barriers to the inclusion of women in Turkey’s ICT sector head-on, directly tapping into disadvantaged regions and low-income segments to build talent from the ground up. The project’s success signals hope for women in Turkey who aim to pursue a career in ICT, and serves as a ready model for companies looking to build a stronger and more inclusive digital economy in Turkey.