Nigerian Partners Target Female STEM Students to Increase Women in Technical Roles

Engendering Industries’ utility partners in Nigeria conduct outreach to female students at the primary, secondary, and university levels; a long-term play to advance women in the power and water sectors. 

Increasing gender balance in male-dominated teams can improve company profits by 47 percent. To achieve this, companies need to develop a long-term vision for attracting more girls and women to male-dominated sectors, like the finance, power, water, oil, and gas industries. But data shows that only 35 percent of STEM graduates globally are female. That proportion is even lower in subfields like information and communication technologies, where only 3 percent of graduates are female. To increase the female talent pipeline in male-dominated industries, companies must increase the number of girls pursuing a STEM education.

Engendering Industries’ Best Practices Framework outlines actions companies can take to pique girls' interest in STEM. These initiatives range from Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, to scholarships, internships, and mentorships for university students. When outreach to girls and young women is successful, companies can quickly change the demographics of their junior professionals while increasing the overall talent pool in their sector more generally. 

Engendering Industries has supported 22 organizations to develop outreach programs for female students of all ages. This case study highlights the initiatives and impacts of Engendering Industries’ partner organizations in Nigeria, which have struggled to recruit women into technical roles due to the low rates of women studying STEM in the country (<25 percent). 

IBEDC: Career Fairs for Women 

IBEDC is one of Nigeria's largest electricity distribution companies, providing power to urban and rural areas. To better understand the needs of their customers and optimize service to a diverse population, executives identified a business need to build a workforce that reflects their customers.  

When IBEDC joined the Engendering Industries program in 2016, only 18 percent of the company’s employees were female, and only 1 percent worked in technical roles. IBEDC needed to improve talent outreach to bring more women into the company. Engendering Industries supported IBEDC to develop “DISCO for Women,” a platform to organize annual conferences for women, provide mentorship to female staff, improve networking opportunities for women at the company, and market new training opportunities. The organization launched a monthly column to feature female employees, publicizing their work and normalizing women in technical and leadership roles. IBEDC also began using gender-blind recruitment strategies. Externally, IBEDC targeted secondary school students by organizing energy clubs and sending female engineers to talk about their careers to encourage girls to study STEM. Like many companies, they also targeted university students by participating in five career fairs. 

Engendering Industries IBEDC

Courtesy of IBEDC

In 2021 they decided to ramp up outreach and recruitment to university students. “We had participated in career fairs before,” said Daniel Iyoha-Ojie, IBEDC’s head of change management, “but we wanted something a little different to serve a niche in the labor market. Historically, we have underserved women, so we wanted to make a statement of affirmative action to raise the question of evening out the odds for women in technical areas dominated by men.” 

Daniel and his team organized two in-person university career fairs on opposite ends of the company’s coverage region and for a virtual career fair that would allow them to target a broader audience in a COVID-19-friendly way.  Engendering Industries provided a grant to help launch the program and also help fund the annual conference for women. 

IBEDC organized the first career fair at the University of Ibadan, ranked the top university in Nigeria. IBEDC called the event the “DISCO for Women Career Fair,” a play on the name of the company’s annual conference for female employees of IBEDC. Marketing materials for the career fair featured photos of women and used a graphic style designed to catch the eye of female university students. IBEDC also worked with the university’s Department of Gender Mainstreaming to recruit students to attend the fair. “The professor who ran that department understood the assignment, and she ran with it. She physically visited all of the science faculties to ensure we had the kind of participation we wanted,” Daniel explained.  

The fair featured female employees from IBEDC who shared advice for young women in a job search and provided information about the company’s recruitment process. Male speakers participated to demonstrate their support for their female colleagues and reinforce that IBEDC is a supportive employer for women. At the end of the presentation, the team shared a link to the IBEDC job portal with directions on searching for open positions and applying. Nearly 190 women attended the fair. 

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We had participated in career fairs before,” said Daniel Iyoha-Ojie, IBEDC’s head of change management, “but we wanted something a little different to serve a niche in the labor market. Historically, we have underserved women, so we wanted to make a statement of affirmative action to raise the question of evening out the odds for women in technical areas dominated by men.” 

After that event, IBEDC organized a second fair at Kwara State Polytechnic, a school in the northernmost part of IBEDC’s customer region, and invited men. “Kwara is more traditional and conservative,” Daniel said, “and so we expected that there would be lower inherent interest in supporting women and gender equity at the school. As a result, we decided to invite men to the event. We thought this would increase buy-in from the school, but we also saw an opportunity to start bringing the men along with gender equity initiatives.”  

Both events attracted hundreds of students, primarily women, and IBEDC started to see a spike in the number of female applicants for jobs at the company. Additionally, many participants stayed in touch with the career fair presenters and became mentees.  

Seeing the impact, IBEDC then launched a virtual career fair. “We were conscious that not all people were comfortable coming to physical fairs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We needed a platform that allowed us to reach a more diverse population and reach out to more universities without breaking the bank,” Daniel said. They put the word out to the participants of the two in-person fairs and started a social media campaign to reach new students at other universities. Then the team used Google Forms to track attendees and Google Hangout to host the event. During the career fair, they followed a similar model to the physical events but shortened all the speaking blocks to hold attendees’ attention. 

Now that IBEDC has tested both in-person and digital career fairs, they plan to continue to organize these events. “For as long as IBEDC is focusing on gender equality, this program will be central,” Daniel said, “In our franchise area alone, there are at least thirty institutions that we can visit. So we can scale up and keep the focus on recruiting women.” 

Engendering Industries ISWSC

ISWSC Brand Ambassador Uchechi Deborah Uchenna speaks to students at Imo Government Girls Secondary School in Owerri, Nigeria, encouraging them to consider careers in science, technology, math, and engineering.
Alec Jacobson/USAID

ISWSC: Keep Girls in School 

When Imo State Water and Sewerage Corporation (ISWSC) joined Engendering Industries in 2020, 40 percent of the company’s employees were women, but there was a significant imbalance in the types of roles those women held. For example, only 4 percent of the company’s women were in technical roles, none were engineers, and only 5 percent of the company’s field staff was female.  

ISWSC’s Engendering Industries change management coach identified multiple root causes for this imbalance, including unconscious bias among some senior staff members, a Nigerian labor law that prevents women from being at work after 5 pm, which limits field work, and also a lack of women studying STEM subjects. So, along with other interventions, the company decided to try to reach women at a young age to try to bend the arc of their participation in STEM. 

One clear challenge identified by ISWSC is that many girls in secondary school in Nigeria miss up to five days of class per month during menstruation. In addition, ISWSC identified that secondary schools in their region commonly lacked adequate bathroom facilities, which created challenges for girls to maintain safe menstrual hygiene and exposed them to stigma related to common cultural biases related to menstruation. So, the company focused on outreach efforts to improve facilities and change behavioral norms to increase conditions for girls in secondary school and encourage them to pursue careers in STEM. 

ISWSC Engendering Industries

ISWSC staff visit a school in Owerri, Nigeria to discuss menstrual hygiene.
Courtesy of ISWSC

In 2021, ISWSC adopted a menstrual health policy that guaranteed access to appropriate facilities for female employees. It also committed the company to outreach efforts to ensure similar access levels at schools in their distribution region. The company has a strong network of stakeholders in its region, including government agencies, NGOs, and the media. After drafting the menstrual health policy, ISWSC gathered dozens of individuals from those stakeholder groups to solicit feedback on the policy and elevate the effort to a broader audience. Government ministers at the meeting suggested that the policy should be used as a benchmark for forming similar policies across the region. The event was televised, helping the messaging around menstrual hygiene reach the general public in the area. 

After the ISWSC adopted the policy, they began a series of school events, organizing some around World Toilet Day and Menstrual Hygiene Day. At these events, ISWSC staff shared information about the company and menstruation. For example, in one event with 100 girls from two different schools, 80 percent of the participants reported no knowledge of menstrual hygiene before the presentation. All came away with a clear understanding of its importance. At another event, the team trained 16 students from six different schools as advocates for menstrual hygiene, supporting them in developing action plans that could be implemented at each school. 

At the same time, ISWSC’s male CEO, Emeka Ugoanyanwu, has been an outspoken advocate of the issue, joining some of the school events and discussing menstrual hygiene on a weekly public radio show. As a senior man, this carries significant weight in swaying public opinion. “No matter how busy a boss is, empathy is part of management,” Emeka says, “I see it as important to support and participate in these outreach efforts as part of that empathy. The community must view menstruation as a normal part of life rather than something strange. Our outreach strategy is unique among organizations in Nigeria, but we’re starting to see a shift. For example, men are beginning to see gender equality as something that concerns everybody – a human problem and not just a female problem.” 

Over time, these actions that impact behavioral norms should increase ISWSC’s female talent pool, but the outreach effort is already starting to have an impact. For example, the company has struggled to attract female engineers, but in 2021, it created a new information and communications technology department and staffed it 100 percent with women. At the same time, they have hired women into other technical roles, including lab techs and water quality controllers.  

EKEDC Bring Your Daughter to Work

A group of 35 girls between the age of 7 and 13 learn about the power industry at EKEDC.
Courtesy of EKEDC

EKEDC Bring Your Daughter to Work

EKEDC: Bring Your Daughters to Work  

When Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) joined Engendering Industries in 2016, one of their first actions was to organize a Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. At the time, only 19 percent of the company’s employees were women, dropping to below 4 percent in engineering roles. At the time, more than 60 percent of employees were within ten years of retirement, so EKEDC saw an opportunity to shift the gender balance by recruiting women to fill these roles. Confronting the limited number of women in the country studying subjects that could lead them to a technical career at the company, they decided to target young students to get them excited about STEM and joining the electrical industry. 

Staff members brought 35 of their daughters, aged 7 to 13, to spend the day at EKEDC. Together, the girls started by exploring a model of a hydroelectric dam built by local architecture students that demonstrated how energy is produced in turbines and distributed through lines to city streets. Later, the EKEDC engineers talked about energy conservation, showing the girls how to check the output of the light bulbs in their own homes and demonstrating their energy consumption with a meter.  
These activities sparked new interests for many young students like Queen Esther, who came into the daydreaming of being a fashion designer and left with a new ambition, exclaiming, “Now I want to become an engineer!” 

Engendering Industries change management coaches often recommend that companies organize this kind of event early because it generates a quick win that teams focused on gender equity can capitalize on to build momentum. EKEDC achieved notable success by engaging company leaders and the media.  

Oladele Amoda, General Manager and CEO of EKEDC at the time, attended the event and told the girls and assembled journalists, “Promoting gender equality is fundamental to our company.” He later sent a statement to the press calling for structural changes to increase the number of women in engineering, saying, “Governments should come up with a well-articulated and sustainable blueprint or policy for the promotion and encouragement of interest of the girl-child in areas presently considered as the exclusive preserve of men.” 

After the event, EKEDC won the Best Gender Empower Company award at The Voice of Women Conference in 2016. WFM 91.7, a regional female-centric radio station, hosted the event and presented the award. 

Since then, EKEDC has significantly expanded outreach to students, launching energy clubs at local schools, starting internship programs with almost 60 percent female participation, and creating outreach programs to recruit women from target technical programs. As a result, the company is now 26 percent female, a 37 percent increase since joining Engendering Industries, and has quadrupled the number of female engineers. 

Engineer Ebubechukwu Ihevueme Engendering Industries

Ebubechukwu Ihevueme
Alec Jacobson/USAID

They understand how to support young females and to encourage them,” said Ebubechukwu Ihevueme, an engineer who joined EKEDC in 2018.

Keys Factors for Engendering Industries’ Partner  Success 

  • Executive Buy-in – Leaders at all three companies committed to the outreach activities. At ISWSC and EKEDC, the participation of executives helped add gravitas to the events. It resulted in broader media attention that elevated the message that more girls in Nigeria should be welcomed into STEM studies. 

  • Partnerships – IBEDC succeeded in organizing career fairs because of a collaboration with a bank that had previously organized similar events and partnerships with schools that were able to help develop events that would maximize impact for their students. ISWSC’s network of partner organizations helped them organize events alongside other issue stakeholders. 

  • Outreach channel choice – Choosing the right medium for outreach can help enhance impact. ISWSC’s use of a radio show to spread the word about menstrual hygiene led to community buy-in that the company measured through small surveys of listeners. EKEDC’s selection of media outlets led to wide reach of their Bring Your Daughter to Work day. IBEDC made carefully designed posters and other outreach graphics for students, using a style that was different from their normal corporate imagery to appeal to a student audience. 

  • Timing – ISWSC organized outreach events to students on days that other organizations recognized around the world, including World Toilet Day and Menstrual Hygiene Day, which helped them to collaborate with other stakeholders. IBEDC worked with each university to ensure that events were optimally timed within the academic calendar and at the best time of the week to attract students.