While there remains significant room for improvement in gender parity within SA’s ICT sector, the Wired4Women Tech Forum is seeing an increase in the number of females taking up chief information officer (CIO) positions.
This was the word from Mandisa Ntloko-Petersen, CMO of BCX and founding member of the Wired4Women Tech Forum, speaking to ITWeb on the sidelines of the recent Wired 4 Women Technology Forum. The event was held by ITWeb Brainstorm magazine, in partnership with BCX, in Johannesburg.
The Wired4Women initiative is spearheaded by BCX and Ntloko-Petersen, providing support and networking opportunities for women in the tech sector. Driven by a group of women determined to act as pathfinders for the next generation, the initiative aims to devise concrete ways to strengthen the female pipeline for the industry, while raising awareness of the crucial role of females in the ICT sector.
Providing an update on the milestones achieved since the forum’s inception in 2019, Ntloko-Petersen noted it has been growing relentlessly and has had an immense impact on narrowing the gender parity gap.
Ntloko-Petersen pointed out that through the forum and similar initiatives, the ICT sector is exhibiting greater acknowledgement of the critical role played by female CIOs across industries.
This growing trend is a reflection of significant progress in diversity and inclusion in the ICT field, according to Ntloko-Petersen. It shows companies believe their technology teams can benefit from females’ unique leadership style and skills, including creativity, boldness, compassion and their ability to ensure more gender-diverse technology team members, she noted.
“Wired4Women is driven and directed by a female-led board that intends shaping the ICT industry and moving the dial on gender equity.Based on the women that we interact with as an organisation, we can say we are seeing more female CIOs entering the ICT industry.
“However, we believe the CIO role needs to be elevated to the exco level. The reliance on technology has gone far beyond previous levels because of what we experienced during COVID-19 and in light of the fourth industrial revolution. This means many companies are now digital companies and it’s no longer about IT, but it’s a business imperative.”
Wired4Women has increased its national membership of women by 30% year-on year, having grown to hundreds of members since inception.
However, challenges related to gender equality and discrimination have not been eradicated, as female representation at other C-level executive roles in the ICT sector remains significantly underrepresented, Ntloko-Petersen added.
“We have also observed that there are still very few females who qualify as Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts, and out of those few that enter the industry, many don’t stick around for long – they change sectors.
“We are also seeing there is still no pay parity. If you look at the available research, it shows that females across all levels of IT are earning less than their male counterparts. I think women need to be bold enough to demand their value’s worth in the earnings they take home.”
According to PwC’s14th Executive Directors Practices and Remuneration Trends report, despite the gender pay gap slowly narrowing across the ICT sector, women remain significantly underpaid.
Female executive directors of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed tech companies featured in the top 100 earn an average of 11% less than their male counterparts, notes PwC.
Among the reasons are societal influences and biases; the low number of women taking up careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields; and workplace systems premised on unconscious biases, it says.
Ntloko-Petersen outlined Wired4Women’s key initiatives to drive progress in gender parity. These include identifying and sharing best practices for improving the gender balance at every level, creating networking opportunities for women in technology, and advancing the careers of women in technology through carefully identified strategic development programmes.
The advisory board, which consists of female IT leaders across SA’s organisations, has taken responsibility for not only driving the agenda, but also being on the frontline to drive activities and sponsor individual women across SA, empowering them to succeed.
“In 2021, Wired4Women gave birth to the Amara programme, aimed at helping young people navigate this ICT industry. It is also aimed at instilling a greater sense of self-worth and provide tools that enable younger women to take their careers to the next level and provide them with access to a network of peers across the tech industry. Women’s lack of networks at a senior level has been identified as the biggest obstacle women face in their careers.”
In 2022, Wired4Women secured sponsorships for 31 young women to go on the Amara programme. Sponsors included Eskom, Bidvest, MultiChoice and Absa.
“There has been an overwhelming response to the Amara programme and we have so far had 90% of the Amara participants being promoted in their place of work. We have recently accepted the third intake of young girls, and we know they will thrive and continue climbing the corporate ladder,” Ntloko-Petersen concluded.