Technology culture required to boost women participation

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Technology in South Africa is on the rise as the country increasingly welcomes the adoption of new and emerging technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain.

But, during this time of industry growth, men continue to take centre stage as woman remain underrepresented in the field.

Speaking in light of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018, a collective action and shared ownership for driving gender parity – Robyn Farah, owner of KATO and chairperson of Women in Tech South Africa, says that the solution for inclusivity in the local tech sector lies in encouraging and supporting women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Global research shows that, from a young age, gender stereotypes lead many women to avoid studying STEM. But, Farah says that given South Africa’s poor levels of math and science education – ranked 128th out of 137 economics in the 2017-2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index – many families cannot understand the value of math and science and instead encourage women to pursue more traditional jobs.

“Young women embarking in STEM often don’t have their family’s support as a result. This means they need to turn to their fellow students for support, who are often mainly males and also struggle to understand why a woman is studying a STEM subject.

“This lack of support has proven to limit women participation,” says Farah.

She points to the 2017 Women in Technology global survey conducted by ISACA which revealed that a lack of female mentors (48%), a lacked female role models in the field (42%) and limited networking opportunities (27%) were some of the top barriers experienced by women in technology.

“We have witnessed firsthand how these barriers impact their contribution to our local tech communities, says Farah.

“In 2012 and 2015 respectively, we started two tech communities, Arduino Cape Town, aimed at those who design and create in the world of electronics, and the Modern Alchemists for South Africa’s Maker community, those into art, coding, gaming, electronics, music or any form of making and incorporating tech into their creations.

“The meet ups offer a chance to interact with likeminded people, skill swap, ask for advice, and build relationships, but we quickly realised that these groups were almost solely attended by men and those women who did attend felt isolated given it was a male-dominated community.”

It is for this reason that, in April 2016, Farah established Women in Tech Cape Town with the aim to empower gender diversity in the tech sector. But, Farah says what makes this community unique is that it encourages men and women from all walks of life to be part of this group.

“We are strong believers that the greater the diversity, the better the solution. The more we try to understand and accept each other, the sooner we will start supporting each other and working together to bridge the gap.”

The success of this model is evident, says Farah.

“We now have close to 1 000 women in this group and it is growing. We’ve also noticed that the number of women has now also increased in the more male orientated groups. This proves how creating supportive networks, those that offer mentorship, support and encouragement, can be powerful motivators to empower women to pursue their passion for tech and progress their career in tech.”

“If we are to bridge the gender gap in South Africa, we need to understand that South Africa’s challenges are unique when compared to Europe and the US, our struggles are broader. We need to start voicing these obstacles and work together to create solutions for the future we want to live in,” concludes Farah.

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Bontle Moeng is the Founder and Managing Director of BizNis Africa. Moeng has spent 15 years working in the digital and online media industry across Africa. She applied her trade at True Love magazine prior to discovering her passion for Investment news in key sectors across Africa. Moeng previously worked for ITWeb, Starfish Mobile Technologies, ITNewsAfrica, AVATAR Agency, eNitiate, Global Interface Consulting and Havas Johannesburg. Her primary focus is to provide solid and valuable content on investment opportunities for the ICT, Energy and Mining sectors across Africa. In addition, the online news publication assists global companies to expand their presence in Africa. Email: news@biznisafrica.co.za

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