/ 1 August 2022

Invest in women to close the tech gender gap

Author Prudence Mathebula believes more companies need to commit and invest in learnerships, bursaries, skills development programmes and internships for women

It is quite staggering that even in 2022, we still have a technology sector that is grossly underrepresented by women. Although this is a global issue and quite concerning for a sector that prides itself on being one step ahead of everyone else, it is probably no surprise that the gender gap in the South African tech sector is even wider than international statistics.

Women hold less than 25% of tech jobs, despite the sector enjoying steady growth. The problem is not with the tech companies who are in no way against women. In truth, they are desperate to close the gender gap and advance gender diversity across the sector. 

Tech companies know they need women, and lots of them if they are ever to change the image of their sector. Many tech companies and businesses have already committed to aggressive campaigns to recruit, hire, retain and promote female talent and most of the larger tech companies have made countless diversity pledges several years earlier to change systemic problems such as pay inequality and workplace culture issues. Yet, the needle is still moving too slowly.

One of the main reasons progress is so sluggish is that tech companies continue to face an uphill battle in attracting and retaining the right women with the right skills. We have known for some time that South African women tend not to gravitate towards Stem-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degrees at university level. Even though this is concerning as it significantly limits the pool of skilled female talent available to fill essential jobs in South Africa’s information and communications (ICT) technology sector, little has been done to fix it.

A career in ICT never crossed my mind when I was embarking on my studies, and it was only after completing a diploma in marketing and advertising, and then working for Dynamic Technologies that I fully realised how valuable an IT qualification could be in paving the way to more exciting and rewarding careers. 

From working on the internet and designing software and apps to implementing cyber security systems and coding trendy games, the career opportunities are endless (and pay cheques just as great) but women need to have the right qualifications and experience first. 

I am determined to change the belief that a career in ICT leads to boring male jobs and to upskill as many of South Africa’s underprivileged and unemployed women aged 15 to 34 as possible. That is why I am so passionate about the purpose of Dynamic DNA — to drive investment in learnerships and provide scarce IT & business skills to create a better future for women. 

By partnering with top IT vendors in the country, we provide a variety of fully accredited, specialist courses for digitally savvy female candidates who have the right cognitive abilities, behaviours and values but not the qualification to match. 

Also, more focused programmes are needed such as the nonprofit, 4IR4HER, which we are involved in, which intentionally moves women towards different fourth industrial revolution (4IR)  tech opportunities in streams such as robotics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and UX/IX (User Experience and Interaction Design).

With women making considerable strides in fields that were previously male-dominated, the lines of career limitations have blurred. There are more career choices available to women now than ever before, allowing them to take charge of their own destiny. It is so important that women start to view their career in technology as a major life-changing opportunity. 

The right aptitude and attitude

I believe it all boils down to aptitude and attitude, which can be seen in one of the women on the 4IR4HER programme, Boitumelo Tshepe. Good at maths at school and with an older sister studying web development, she knew that a career in IT was an option, but the only thing she was lacking was the qualification and experience. 

Thanks to our programme, Boitumelo is now in her final year of a Level 5 National Certificate in Information Technology Systems Development course, where she gained skills in object-oriented and Fourth Generation language programming, website development, multimedia, and e-commerce, and she is also a student in software development at the Tshwane University of Technology.

She is also getting hands-on experience in mobile and database development through a placement at Cloudsmiths, one of the fastest-growing companies in the salesforce ecosystem in Southern Africa. 

Investment in learnerships is key

Boitumelo is an example of how women-focused programmes can make a significant difference to the lives of everyday women. Yet to develop baseline skills and create employment opportunities for underprivileged women in the local tech industry, we need the invaluable support of corporates and the private sector. 

There is a huge lack of skills in industries related to 4IR, which is booming. As businesses set up sustainable ways to digitise and become more competitive, developing a people pipeline for now and the future is critical.

Aggressive campaigns to recruit, hire, retain, and promote female talent is simply not enough. 

More companies need to commit and invest in learnerships, bursaries, skills development programmes and internships for women to help diversify their workplace. 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 advancing their broad-based black economic empowerment scorecard. 

Prudence Mathebula is a 51% shareholder and the managing director of ITC training and skills development company Dynamic DNA

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.