Lebo Mosola-Mnjama | 9 August 2023
We hear the phrase ‘women in tech,’ quite often in the working world, yet not all women in tech appreciate this phrase. Many feel it is yet another label that entrenches the gap between men and women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries. Despite this sentiment, the statistics regarding women in such industries, particularly in relation to senior and leadership positions, indicate that there is still much work to be done to achieve equality and diversity in traditionally male-dominated spheres.
According to the Women in Tech ZA report released in August 2022, only 23% of the tech jobs in our country are held by women. This means that out of the 236 000 technology jobs in South Africa, only 56 000 are not held by men. The question we need to ask ourselves is “why?”. With influential initiatives like GirlCode and Women In Tech ZA and various groups targeted at women in this industry on LinkedIn – why is there still such a large gap?
Diversity and inclusivity is essential, not optional
I believe we have to start by examining the importance of gender diversity, and considering why it is so important for women to ‘have a seat at the table’. Personally, I feel the answer is straightforward. Diversity and inclusivity in the workplace should be a top priority; something we’re constantly striving toward because we want to align our workplaces with an accurate visual representation of our country.
Inclusivity starts at an education level
How do we achieve this? We’d have to start at the beginning – primary school education. According to the Mail & Guardian, only 38% of ICT graduates are women and despite the fact that this is 8% higher than the global average, it’s clear that we can and should be aiming higher. There is still much growth and development needed to eliminate gender disparity in this industry. Having said that, I do believe that interest in ICT-based careers is steadily climbing for female students, which is visible through the growth of tech grad programmes. With initiatives such asAfrican Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) we’re definitely headed in the right direction. The AGCCI recently enrolled 40 girls from public schools into their programme, which focuses on inspiring and empowering young girls to code and introduces them to the likes of robotics, and skills in other emerging technologies.
Equal opportunity in new technologies
There is a significant lack of skills in industries related to the 4IR, which is booming. As businesses seek to establish sustainable ways to digitise and become more competitive, developing a human capital pipeline for today and the future is critical. However, aggressive campaigns to recruit, hire, retain, and promote female talent is not going to work. We can’t find what does not yet exist. More companies need to commit to and invest in learnerships, bursaries, skills development programmes and internships aimed squarely at women in order to adequately diversify their workplace with female talent that is adequately equipped with the technical and soft skills required to perform alongside their male counterparts. Not only is this good for business, improving productivity and innovation that in turn has a positive knock-on effect on their bottom line, but in doing so businesses can also benefit from several incentives such as the Sector Education and Training Authority grants and skills funding, tax rebates, as well as advancements in their Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment scorecards.
The power of positive role models
One thing that Dariel Software has done well in recent years is to understand the power of mentorship and its impact on younger generations of women. Powerful, positive role models are instrumental in breaking the stereotype that subjects like computer science, coding and robotics are the exclusive domain of male learners. We need to challenge misconceptions about the abilities of women in these fields. We need to shift the workplace topography without making IT something that is forced on girls at a school level, but rather one that organically creates an interest within them. We can do this through the power of positive role models and mentorship.
Diversity, inspiration and innovation
This is particularly important, as once we have brilliant women, the conversation shifts then to how we retain this talent and develop it further so that it may inspire others. Every organisation has a duty to examine how they can upskill women in the workplace and elevate them to management level, opening the boardroom doors so that women may take seats at tables that have long been denied to them. The tech industry has much to gain from gender diversity, from the top down. Studies have shown that teams with more diverse perspectives are more likely to make better decisions and to be more innovative. This is because they are better able to consider all sides of an issue and to come up with solutions that are focused on broader social impact, and not just generating economic value. Additionally, women-led companies are likely to generate more growth than those led by their male counterparts.
Inclusion is an ongoing dialogue
With this in mind, we need to keep having these discussions around women in tech. We need to keep asking how we upskill women in the workplace and get them to levels of management that empower them to make a meaningful contribution once they have that elusive “seat at the table.” We need to keep seeking ways to bridge gaps and break barriers.
Consistent, meaningful effort
Although these issues currently raise more questions than we have answers for, it is heartening to know that there are many companies like Dariel, determined to level the playing field through consistent effort and a deep commitment to actively supporting the entry of more women into the industry, and to making a meaningful contribution to their ongoing career development for the betterment of the industry as a whole. In making an active contribution all year round, we truly can use the occasion of Women’s Day to salute our female pioneers and to acknowledge the vital role each and every one of them plays in the workplace, instead of paying lip service on a hollow public holiday.
‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.