More focus needed on boosting women in IT

South Africa’s ICT sector has made great strides in changing its gender demographics over the past decade, but more work needs to be done to support women’s progress in this sector, says MTN South Africa CEO Mteto Nyati.

Speaking ahead of the South African Women in ICT Awards, Nyati said South African ICT sector demographics had changed significantly during his 20 years in the industry.

“In the 1990s, the sector was primarily white and male. Now, it is far more representative of the population. However, participation by women at a senior level is still too low.”

It is estimated that only around 20% of ICT jobs in South Africa are held by women. At senior levels, women’s representation drops sharply.

Nyati believes this is due to a number of factors, starting at school level, where maths and science education is challenged in delivering good results.

“If young people associate these fields with difficulty and failure, they shy away from the subjects and inevitably, from careers in these fields,” he says.

Later in life, highly technical jobs such as tech support often demand that professionals travel and work shifts; conditions that are not always ideal for women trying to live up to society’s expectations of their role as caregivers, he notes.

However, Nyati believes many women would embrace an opportunity to develop their ICT skills and move up the ICT career ladder.

“We have witnessed this within our own company, where in the past we made about 30 bursaries available each year for our staff to advance their ICT studies. This year, we are helping around 400 level 1 and 2 employees to study for MBAs and other degrees and the majority of these employees are women. This programme has been very well received by staff, and we expect it to drive greater representation of women within our management structure in future.”

Nyati notes that increasing women’s participation in the ICT sector need not require massive investment, and can be achieved through public – private sector partnerships.

In his experience through years of development initiatives, the intervention with the greatest long-term impact is to simply teach the teachers at school level.

“It’s great to install an ICT lab at a school, but this must be coupled with an investment in teacher skills development, otherwise the lab will sit unused,” he says.

Another relatively low-investment, high impact intervention is for ICT companies to offer internships to graduates.

“Surprisingly, with only 6 – 12 months of hands-on experience, graduates become highly employable. In addition, having interns on the team brings down the overall cost of doing business, so internships are a win-win for companies and young graduates. If companies offering internships focused more on women, the gender imbalance in the industry could be rectified relatively quickly,” he says.

Recognising role models in the sector is also important in encouraging women to enter the ICT industry, says MTN.

In line with this, MTN, in partnership with Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio, are set to stage South Africa’s first Women in ICT – Partnership for Change Awards. The winners across various categories will be announced on August 31.


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