July 2016

By the time you read this, you would have already enjoyed your day off, thanks to the women of South Africa. A Happy Belated Women’s day to all our IITPSA women.

Sadly, the percentage of Women in IT is around 20%. So who cares? Should we care? Do any of the other professions which have a shortage of women get the same attention as IT? What about panelbeaters?  How many women panelbeaters have you come across? What about the mining and construction industry? When you drive past a construction site, how many of the brick layers are women? What about plumbers? So it is not just the tech industry which battles to attract women to the profession.
So why does it matter that there aren’t more women in tech? Should we not just accept it? A saying which I actually detest but I will use anyway, is, “It is what it is”. Why is it receiving so much attention?

Here’s why …

The tech industry is global. It needs to represent and understand consumers as a whole. However, many IT companies don’t have enough of a female perspective in order to give accurate input. With greater diversity comes better tech. The current technology we are using is missing the crucial female voice. With few women in tech, we miss the potential for greater innovation. Women have a critical role to play in technology, and their contributions could offer enormous benefits to society.

According to research, women’s choices impact up to 85% of purchasing decisions. Does that surprise us? Who does most of the shopping? Tech companies will benefit from better understanding the perspectives and needs of this strong economic force. Not only that, but companies need teams of people with a variety of strengths and ones who approach problems in different ways. Simply put, diversity is good for business.

Having more women in tech will make it less unusual for women to pursue the professions. With more female tech pioneers, girls will be less likely to be discouraged from joining the industry. We need more females in tech that young women can look up to, see themselves in, and learn from.

Thousands of new tech jobs are being created and some of them are high paying. The industry is thriving. Women are missing out on these wonderful opportunities. We need women to fuel the workforce. Without them we may not have the workforce to support the growing industry.

I’ve given some reasons as to why we need women in tech, but why aren’t there more women tech? Surely the reasons I have given should be enough of a motivator to get more girls excited about the industry?

So what can we do to improve the situation?

Let’s start off with the early years:

All schools should offer computer science related subjects. Girls should be encouraged to take up these subject and should be given proper career guidance and support. Teasing in school should not be tolerated and we need to do away with media stereotypes.  You are not a nerd if you enjoy tech, and no, not all girls want a career in the beauty industry. From an early age, the gender stereotype of ‘boys being better at science and maths’ can discourage girls from studying STEM subjects. We need to raise awareness and ensure that girls understand the various IT career paths they can follow.

Now we enter the workforce:

Studies have shown that women leave the technology industry because of a hostile work environment where the company culture is not accommodating to women. This is also referred to as a hostile macho culture. One of the biggest barriers to making progress in gender equality is unconscious bias. The most important first step we can take towards improving the culture for women in our organisation is to take an Implicit Association test in order to find out where our own personal biases lie.

Organisations should also offer more flexible working arrangements. Many women leave the industry because they want to raise a family and, even though they would like to continue working, organisations are rigid. As a result the industry is losing a lot of talent.
Companies need to enact more innovative ways to identify and hire diverse candidates. Companies should lead the change.

We need more women role models. Having key women in senior leadership roles will positively encourage other females to join an organisation that is supportive of advancing women’s careers, thus increasing overall company growth and productivity. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says, “ We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored”.

Getting more women into tech roles today can help break the cycle of a male-dominated industry and fill the STEM talent demand.

As a society, we are all responsible and have the power to get more women into tech. I have the power and so does every single person reading this. Some of you are parents, some of you are employers, educators and role models. So to summarise, the initiatives that should hopefully get more women in tech are:

  • Improve education. Make IT available to all learners and make it a compulsory subject.
  • Champion more role models. We know you are out there. Come out of hiding.
  • Challenge negative stereotypes.
  • Strengthen networking and mentoring opportunities.

So, it absolutely matters and we should care that there are not enough women in IT.
Ciao Ulandi