More women power into SA’s male-dominated ICT job market

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 08 Aug 2023
The Commission for Employment Equity’s latest report shows the ICT sector is employing more African females now compared to two years ago.
The Commission for Employment Equity’s latest report shows the ICT sector is employing more African females now compared to two years ago.

As South Africa prepares to mark Women’s Day tomorrow, it appears the collective efforts to balance the scale of women representation in the local ICT front are yielding results.

Statistics show gradual improvement in the male/female ratio in the sector between 2020/21 and 2022/23, with more women joining the sector versus their male counterparts.

The Commission for Employment Equity’s (CEE’s) 23rd Employment Equity Report for the 2022/2023 financial year (1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023) shows the ICT sector − or what it terms the information and communication sector − had a total of 255 933 employees, ranging from top-level management, to unskilled persons.

Looking at historic data from the CEE's 21st Employment Equity Report, there were 146 333 (60.5%) male employees in the sector in 2021, versus 95 633 (39.5%) females during that same period.

However, in 2023, male employees make up 150 303 (58.7%) of the workforce, while women employees increased to 105 604 (41.3%).

The changes reveal a total of 9 971 females became employees in the sector between 2020/21 and 2022/23, while the total for males was 3 970.

The growth has been among African females, increasing from 47 567 (19.2%) in 2021, to 54 338 (21.2%) in 2023.

The report also shows overall employee growth was among semi-skilled persons at 3.30%, followed by skilled workers at 2% and unskilled workers at 1.8%, while the professionally qualified workforce saw 1.4% growth, and 1% for top and senior management.

The CEE is a statutory body established in terms of the Employment Equity Act (EEA). Its functions include advising the labour minister on EEA matters, and implementing the EEA's objectives and policy.

The CEE report provides an overview of the status of the employment equity of the labour market in the country, as reported by designated employers in the 2022 circle. To produce the latest iteration of its report, the commission received a total number of 1 792 reports from the ICT sector.

ICT sector ratios: Gender and race based on the 21st and 23rd Employment Equity Reports.
ICT sector ratios: Gender and race based on the 21st and 23rd Employment Equity Reports.

Onwards and upwards

Despite economic headwinds, the ICT sector has shown signs of growth.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA’s) latest report on the state of the ICT sector in the country shows an increase in the number of persons employed by the telecoms sector, one of three areas it regulates.

ICASA’s state of ICT report shows the total employment in the telecoms sector increased by 46.36%, from 22 055 in 2021, to 32 280 in 2022.

The number of female employees as a percentage of all employment also increased by 38.82% in 2022, and male employment increased from 13 452 in 2021, to 20 337 in 2022.

Additionally, the number of persons with disabilities employed in the telecoms sector increased from 191 in 2021, to 315 in 2022.

In its breakdown of employee skills in the telecoms sector, ICASA’s report states there were about 23 473 skilled persons, 4 701 semi-skilled persons and 507 unskilled persons in 2022.

ICASA’s state of ICT report shows gradual growth in telecoms sector employees.
ICASA’s state of ICT report shows gradual growth in telecoms sector employees.

Commenting on the CEE’s findings, female industry players say the growth in the number of females in the ICT sector shows some correlation to the changes in the sector.

Zandile Mkwanazi, CEO of GirlCode, says there is growing awareness of the importance of gender diversity in tech, which has encouraged more women to pursue careers in the field.

“Through our initiatives like our all-women hackathon and training programme for female tech graduates, where we partner with various corporates to provide job opportunities to our GirlCoders, we have definitely had an increase in entry-level opportunities.”

Lindiwe Matlali, founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks and coding advocate, notes the ICT sector worldwide has been actively working on increasing gender diversity.

“The statistics from the 23rd Employment Equity Report showing growth of women, especially African females in the ICT sector, is a positive sign of these efforts.”

Moira de Roche, non-executive director of the Institute of IT Professionals SA and chairperson of the IFIP International Professional Practice Partnership, stresses that to really fill the skills gap, more women must be employed.

De Roche points out that the gaps in the sector are not at entry-level and certainly aren’t semi-skilled.

“On the one hand, I suppose we must start somewhere; but on the other hand, we are churning out a lot of computer science and information systems graduates, who should surely go into the skilled level. I always wonder what sort of ICT people are ‘semi-skilled’, because the jobs tend to be skilled; maybe in the communications sector there are more semi-skilled.”

Commenting on growth being concentrated at the semi-skilled level, Matlali notes this could be a reflection of various factors: targeted training programmes, entry-level hiring drives, or the industry's growth in areas that require semi-skilled labour.

“While it's a starting point, the key will be ensuring these employees have pathways to advance, upskill and move into higher-skilled roles, to ensure long-term career progression and equal representation at all levels.

“Unfortunately, the sector track record on keeping women and advancing them from entry-level to senior positions is bad. The McKinsey study on women in tech reflects the same trends with more women entering tech, but less progress to senior levels and these are worse for black women. Unfortunately, these issues are systematic, including race and gender bias.”

Mkwanazi adds: “The growth at the semi-skilled level indicates progress, but we also need to encourage growth at higher skill levels. Initiatives must address the entire spectrum, from introductory programmes, to advanced technical training and leadership development once these young women enter the corporate space. “

Lindiwe Matlali, founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks.
Lindiwe Matlali, founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks.

When it comes to the sector employing more African females, De Roche believes this to be the case. Similarly, Mkwanazi notes the reported increase in African females in the sector is consistent with what GirlCode is observing.

“The tech industry benefits immensely from diverse perspectives, and we should continue to create inclusive environments that empower women to thrive.

“Encouraging girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to embrace tech careers not only narrows the gender gap, but also opens up opportunities for socio-economic transformation,” comments Mkwanazi.

“We must celebrate the gains we've made, while remaining committed to breaking down barriers that hinder women's full participation and leadership in the sector.”

Zandile Mkwanazi, CEO of GirlCode.
Zandile Mkwanazi, CEO of GirlCode.

* Data compiled from the CEE’s 21st and 23rd Employment Equity and graph from ICASA's 2023 State of ICT Sector in SA reports.