The tech industry is typically male-dominated, and though women have been increasingly participating in this space over the last decade, there is still a lot of ground to cover.
Women in the industry say they still deal with stereotypes like ‘girls can’t code’ and similar tech myths as running inside jokes. Adding to this stumbling block, poor pipeline, culture and low numbers of active role models, among other factors, also contribute to the underrepresentation of women in ICT, whereby only 23% of tech jobs in South Africa are held by women.
There are efforts to support African women in tech and increase their participation, such as programmes like the United Nations Women and African Union’s African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI). However, according to experts, there are additional methods to empower women in technology and advance them in the field.
Creating spaces that indulge curiosity
Women often face unique challenges and experiences in their professional journeys, and the technology sector is no exception. Recognising this, leaders at technology firms would do well to evaluate how they can support women through these challenges.
Mohini Ufeli, Managing Editor at financial technology firm Paystack, says that “guidance through structured mentorship programmes, a culture of knowledge exchange and experience sharing will go a long way in supporting women growing their careers in the sector.
“Paystack’s Women’s Mentorship Programme, which has 18 mentors, has helped over 30 mentees navigate their personal and professional paths over the past six months, with themes ranging from career planning and leadership to family and parenting,” adds Ufeli.
“By leveraging the power of shared wisdom and guidance through structured mentorship programs, firms create a safe space for women to voice their doubts, indulge their curiosity and grow.”
Normalise women in tech
Before we can talk about the support women in tech need, we need to look at ways to attract more women to the tech industry. Traditionally male-dominated, it’s long been time for tech to actively encourage and nurture female participation.
Keletso Mpisane, head of digitally-based motor insurer MiWay Blink, is of the view that we need to stop talking about “women in tech” as a separate category. “People who are interested in tech should all be welcome in the industry and treated exactly the same way. We need to normalise women in tech and that starts with how we talk about it.”
Mpisane also believes that there needs to be a collective focus on encouraging women from a young age to explore the possibilities of a career in tech. “Tech isn’t just for nerdy boys; it requires creative thinkers, critical thinkers, innovators, problem solvers, and empathetic people, all of which are skills that women excel at,” she says.
Tech isn’t just for nerdy boys; it requires creative thinkers, critical thinkers, innovators, problem solvers, and empathetic people, all of which are skills that women excel at.
Celebrate success stories
Client service manager at Sea Monster Entertainment, Dr. Amy Duncan, says, “Having recently attended the Games for Change Festival in New York that hosted some of the leading professionals and experts within the impact games and immersive tech space, I was incredibly encouraged and inspired to see the number of kick-ass women in this industry doing incredible work and facilitating real change in the world.”
“While there is without a doubt still a way to go in South Africa to improve the gender representation within the tech industry at large, especially at senior levels, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that women will continue to grow in prominence within the space. To support women, I would say that we have to first support and celebrate the success stories that are out there – and they are out there! I think it’s hugely important for women in particular to support other women, even if that means just giving up some time to share their stories or offer some advice. With time, I foresee that women will be the catalysts for huge advances in the tech space, and I am excited to be a part of that progression and to see it happen,” she adds.
Under-representation must be addressed collectively
“The greatest challenge to advancing gender equality in the workplace, particularly in the technology industry, is addressing women’s under-representation in emerging roles, such as cloud computing, engineering, and Data and AI,” says Ursula Fear, Senior Talent Programme Manager at Salesforce.
She maintains that addressing this challenge starts long before a woman enters the workforce. “We need to work together – as education institutes, as businesses, as caregivers – to help cultivate an interest in ICT among young girls by exposing them to all the possibilities ICT holds.”
A successful outcome, Fear believes, is the day that we no longer need to talk about women in tech as a specific focus area. “We need to keep nurturing potential, interrogating how to make tech more appealing to women, and actively debunking any remaining stigmas, myths, and stereotypes around tech being a male field,” she concludes.
Women need to be heard
Diversity, equity, and inclusion policies in companies can and should be the starting point for women’s representation in companies. As Zoho for Startups’ Global Head, Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy comments, “is it not a question of the cultural-integrity of an organisation if women employees don’t feel included, feel to be deserving of opportunities and growth, and feel to be listened to?
“Teams realising that women need to be heard is a necessary first step. There should be enough opportunities created for peer-to-peer groups to be formed, that can lead to forging of life-long friendships or allies at the workplace,” adds Krishnamoorthy.