A lever long enough

How women in coding can transform individual lives, industries and nations

Author: Alain Bejjani — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Holding

Every once in a rare while, business has the opportunity to make a positive change that reverberates across individual lives, industries, nations and regions. For Majid Al Futtaim, the decision to launch our coding programme for women is one of those pivotal moments.

Coding has been described as ‘the most important job skill of the future’ and ‘basic literacy for the next century.’ That would be reason enough to train 5,000 women in the UAE — to improve gender equity, to power the nation’s future readiness and tech capacity.

But there are many more reasons. The dividends of learning coding extend far beyond better job prospects and higher salaries.

Learning to code has been shown to be a confidence booster for girls, a means to boost communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills, improve perseverance, problem solving and perception. Scores of people have also been able to use basic coding skills to simplify their lives or get a head start on becoming entrepreneurs. Its importance is clearly seen in the fact that it is increasingly being introduced to children the world over.

At the macro level, digital skills like coding can make a substantial difference in national GDP. It’s been estimated that the existing digital skills gap in the United Kingdom, for example, costs the nation billions in lost GDP every year, in addition to hampering Covid recovery efforts as traditional industries go digital and digital-led sectors emerge.

If coding is like computer DNA — the set of instructions that tells a computer what to do — then those who understand coding are the digital doctors, nurses and surgeons of the future.

Since announcing our commitment in September, our Majid Al Futtaim School of Analytics and Technology has made progress in developing a Seed-Build-Lead programme to inspire more women into tech, develop their skills, kickstart and support their careers in the field. We’re aiming to reach more than 1,000 women this year.

One of the things I’ve learned is that no job and no learning is ever wasted. Every skill you have, every job you do, prepares you for something else, often when you least expect it. I’ve seen the truth of this repeatedly. The long-ago university job at a computer lab may come in handy when you need to network a printer or troubleshoot buggy software in the dead of night; your time as a barista or call-centre agent is front-line customer service training.

Similarly, no matter what industry you work in, tech knowledge is an asset. Expertise is not required; knowing enough to be useful or to understand tech speak is enough to shorten turnaround times, understand vendor offerings and pricing, and more.

In addition to being an investment in individuals, industries and the nation, this programme is an investment in our own future at Majid Al Futtaim. It moves us ahead in both our advanced technology goals as well as our gender diversity goals. As we stated recently, one of the targets of our Sustainability-Linked Loans is to have many more women in management positions in the next five years. That road to the top has many on-ramps and requires specific talent and advancement strategies including inclusive hiring processes, mentorships and career guidance.

Let me be clear that though our women coders programme begins in the UAE, it does not end there. At Majid Al Futtaim, and in the UAE, we consider the regional talent pool to be a UAE one and vice versa. As I have personally encouraged our MAFers, you do not need to be physically present in the UAE to benefit from this programme; we would love to and will make it possible for our talent across our markets to benefit from it.

Our women coders programme is also an investment in the next generation. As we have read, when you train a man, you train a man; when you train a woman, you train a generation. As a father of two brilliant young women, I could not be more personally appreciative of this opportunity. As a company, it is our great pleasure and honour to make this contribution towards generations to come.

My thanks to the team who have put this coding programme together, working out those details as well as those around partnerships, training modules and more; and to the UAE, for inspiring and encouraging us with the National Coders Programme.

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