Women in tech talk about marginalisation and how to shatter glass ceilings

Wired: Women must create technology that’s relevant to them. (Shashi Behari)

Wired: Women must create technology that’s relevant to them. (Shashi Behari)

Kim Kardashian doesn’t spring to mind when talking about women thriving in the tech world. She should.

But few women make it in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) spheres. In South Africa only 23% of tech jobs are held by women.

This emerged at the Women in Tech conference, held at Cape Town’s Open Design Festival earlier this month, which focused on why women are marginalised in this field, how glass ceilings can be shattered and how to dismantle the imposter syndrome in the workplace.

Too often, women spend their time at tech events trying to convince the men in the room that they should be taken seriously, regardless of how successful they may be in their particular Stem field.

“The [conference’s] goal was to change the landscape and create spaces for women to feel comfortable within the tech field,” said one of the organisers, Robyn Farah.

The conversation that stirred many responses was the imposter syndrome discussion — women are not taken seriously in the tech industry and this results in them waiting to be “found out” for not belonging there.

Think of Kardashian, who was recently on the cover of Forbes magazine for being a “mobile mogul”. She has swiftly moved into the tech field with her mobile apps Kimoji and Kim Kardashian West, as well as her mobile game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, which has earned her an estimated $45-million. Despite this, for many people she will only ever be a vapid, selfie-taking reality star.

The focus of the discussion provoked by women’s feelings that they “don’t belong” in the tech sector was on finding solutions.

Lauren Woollands, a recruiter for a tech company, said not as many women as men are applying for jobs in the tech industry.

One suggestion was to take Stem career development right down to school level. “Gaming can be used to create educational experiences,” Farah said. “Adding Stem subjects to curriculums and exposing young girls and boys to Stem careers is a start.”

They need to be supported and guided from about the age of 10.

“By doing this, the industry will be able to draw young women — and particularly women of colour, who are the focus of development initiatives in the tech industry — into Stem careers.”

Co-organiser Carla Goldstein pointed out: “It is important to encourage girls to actually enter the job market, because they are going to university to study Stem fields, but are not following that with Stem careers.”

A software developer at the event said that young people must be able to see the real-world outcomes of what they create. “Technology must be built by the people who use IT,” she said.

Farah added: “The aim is to encourage young women to create the tech that is relevant to them. If we continue to do this, we will change the face of tech in the next five to 10 years.”

The other event co-ordinators were Jennifer Cohen and Bianca Cherkaev. Visit kat-o.net.

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