Unpacking the women’s voice and management of their talent in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) world was the theme at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Alumni and Department of Applied Information Systems (AIS) webinar.
The webinar hosted on 24th August 2021 explored the development of women in ICT with the aim to inspire and reimagine the future of the voices of women in technology.
Dr Stella Bvuma, HoD in the AIS, has a driven robust passion in the area of ICT4Development and technology adoption. She said it was important to retain students in ICT so that they do not drop out of the system and added that there was no easy answer to increasing a girl’s participation in the ICT space.
Dr Bvuma asked if academic institutions were setting the bar and being intentional about getting the girl child into the system.
“We should actively and intentionally recruit girls into the ICT programmes. We always need to go the extra mile for our girl students to make sure that we strive for balance while we are taking care of the boy student. We can do much and start by increasing knowledge in ICT careers.”
Dr Bvuma said their department was deliberate in exposing students to women in the tech space. She added that institutions needed to go the extra mile for potential students by organising field trips to interact with professionals in their spaces and change the misconceptions about IT careers.
Ms Sonwabise Mzinyathi, board member of the South African Women in ICT Forum (SAWIICT), mentor and guest speaker, highlighted the importance of reflecting on the Women’s Day march in 1956 and how much progress has been made since. Mzinyathi said women were still a minority in fields like engineering, energy, transportation, manufacturing and ICT which are vital sectors to enable transformation for sustained development.
According to The Leaky Pipeline Report by Syson Kunda, which covered a scope of research across the country, women faced several challenges in the sector including the work-life balance strain that required them to perform at superior levels both at home and at work. Mzinyathi also spoke about other challenges faced by women according to the report.
These included masculine language; the lack of representation of women in STEM subjects that lack gender neutrality and often show a visible bias towards male characters; lack of exposure of ICT from a young age for women; toxic culture in the workplace; gender pay gaps and lack of role models.
“Mentoring provides a key to strategic and intentional acquisition and retention of women and is a crucial part of leading diversity and inclusion. Studies show that men are promoted in the industry for their potential while women are promoted after several achievements. There must be visible commitment from the top to full spectrum diversity and pay priority and sustained action throughout the organisation and equal pay for equal work. While not a perfect solution, it is a start,” said Mzinyathi. SAWIICT has three programmes that are focused on creating more awareness to ICT, provide mentorship, highlight entrepreneurship, as well as research and policy.
“We have to create enabling environments for women and (make) better decisions geared towards driving diversity, equity and inclusion in the sector,” she concluded.
Ms Jessica Tandy, a UJ Alumni and Project Management and Business Analysis Consultant in the Information Technology, Manufacturing, Health and Telecommunications field, started her own organisation Bizmod– after being triggered as the only woman in a male environment. The company, owned by three women, focuses on consulting, resources and creative work.
“Skills are changing. There is a limited barrier to entering the ICT space. A lot of people are limiting themselves but if you look at the rising skills anybody can pivot at any age. Soft skills are also critical. As business we need to work on boardroom conversations. If you aren’t talking women in ICT you have a problem, if you are not, you don’t want to be in business,” she said.