Though women have increasingly been participating in the male dominated tech industry over the last decade, there is still a lot of ground to cover.

Girls can’t code’ and similar tech myths and stereotypes are still inside jokes that women in the industry have to deal with. Adding to this stumbling block, low numbers of active role models (among other factors) also contribute to the under-representation of women in IT. Only 23% of tech jobs in South Africa are held by women.

The good news is, there are efforts to support women in tech and increase their participation, such as the UN Women and African Union Commission’s African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI). According to experts, there are additional ways to empower women in technology and help advance them in the field.

Firstly, we need to look at ways to attract more women into the tech industry. Traditionally male dominated, the time for tech to actively encourage and nurture female participation is long overdue. Keletso Mpisane, head of MiWay Blink, believes we need to stop talking about ‘women in tech’ as a separate category. “People who are interested in tech should all be welcome and treated exactly the same way.

We need to normalise women in tech and that starts with how we talk about it.” Keletso says there also needs to be a focus on encouraging girls from a young age to explore the possibilities of an IT career. “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.”

“The greatest challenge to advancing gender equality in the tech workplace is addressing women’s underrepresentation in emerging roles, such as cloud computing, engineering, 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 IT among young girls by exposing them to all the possibilities IT holds. 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.”

Leaders at technology firms would do well to evaluate how they can support women in their unique career challenges and experiences. Mohini Ufeli, managing editor at fintech firm Paystack, says, “Guidance through structured mentorship and 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. “By leveraging the power of shared wisdom and mentorship, firms create a safe space for women to voice their doubts, indulge their curiosity and grow.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion policies in companies can and should be the starting point for women’s representation in the tech industry. Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, global head of Zoho for Startups, asks: “Is it not a question of the cultural integrity of an organisation if women employees don’t feel included, don’t feel deserving of opportunities and growth, and don’t feel to be listened to?”

She says realising that women need to be heard “is a necessary first step”. There should also be opportunities created for peer-to-peer groups to be formed, which can lead to forging life-long connections or allies in the workplace.

Dr Amy Duncan, client service manager at Sea Monster Entertainment, recently attended the Games for Change Festival in New York, which hosted 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.”

She says that while there is still a way to go in South Africa to improve 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 in the space.” To support women, Amy says that we have to first support and celebrate the success stories that are out there – “and they are out there!

It’s hugely important for women, in particular, to support other women, even if that just means giving up some time to share their stories or offer some advice.” With time, she foresees that women will become the catalysts for huge advances in the tech space. “I am excited to be a part of that progression and to see it happen.”

Words by: Courtesy Of Irvine Partners
Photography: Gallo/Getty Images

HOW TO SUPPORT WOMEN IN TECH HOW TO SUPPORT WOMEN IN TECH Reviewed by Amaarah on April 08, 2024 Rating: 5
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