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Plight of females in tech lingers on global women's day

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 08 Mar 2024
International Women’s Day spotlights women’s issues and rights the world over.
International Women’s Day spotlights women’s issues and rights the world over.

As the world marks International Women's Day today, gender equality in the tech industry has reared its head once again, while a new study highlights that women are more at risk of cyber threats.

This year’s International Women's Day is held under the theme: “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”, focusing on women’s issues and rights.

Kaspersky experts conducted research ahead of today’s celebrations and discovered malware-infected websites and phishing pages mainly targeting women. These came in the form of women’s community sites, forums with advice articles, and online stores selling clothes or cosmetics.

The cyber security firm says some of the web pages were originally legitimate resources and were later hacked by cyber criminals to spread malware.

It reveals that the identified threats included web skimmers, which are usually embedded in the code of online shops to steal user payment data.

Additionally, the researchers detected several phishing pages masquerading as books about breastfeeding, pregnancy and nutrition for fertility. To continue reading, victims had to enter their personal and bank card details. Once entered, this information was automatically transmitted to the attackers, while access to the book was never granted.

“Websites, irrespective of their audience, are vulnerable to mass attacks and what’s particularly concerning is that even reputable platforms can be infiltrated and compromised,” says Victoria Vlasova, malware analyst team lead at Kaspersky.

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we need to recognise the importance of safeguarding our online presence. It’s essential for women, who often face heightened risks online, to exercise caution when installing software or sharing personal information.

“It’s a reminder to prioritise our digital safety and empower each other by using reliable cyber security measures.”

A 2020 World Economic Forum report showed it will take 100 years to bridge the gender gap.
A 2020 World Economic Forum report showed it will take 100 years to bridge the gender gap.

The gender imbalance in the ICT space is a worldwide phenomenon, with calls made annually to expose more females to STEM-related subjects.

The 2020 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report revealed it will take at least another 100 years to bridge the gender gap across the globe.

A PwC report showed that women hold only 19% of tech-related roles at the world's top 10 technology corporations, compared to men, who hold 81%.

Closer to home, statistics show women hold only 23% of technology employment positions in SA.

Resultantly, tech training and career acceleration provider ALX has called on SA's tech sector to take shared ownership in addressing the digital gender gap, or risk leaving a generation of talented, young women behind in the fourth industrial revolution.

The organisation believes given the right combination of digital skills, support and training, women can become change-makers at grassroots level and in the boardroom.

“Without women at the forefront of projects that drive change and innovation, Africa is missing out on half of the continent’s socio-economic potential,” says Divesh Sooka, GM of ALX South Africa.

“While progress has been made in addressing the demand for digital expertise within emerging economies across the continent, there is still a critical need to bridge the gender divide, harnessing the untapped potential of women in the technology sector.”

Anna Collard, SVP content strategy and evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa, encourages mentoring women to create more inclusive workplaces, particularly young women of colour.

Referencing a recent study, Collard says women in Africa have less access to internet-based technologies than men, have fewer opportunities, and are even more limited in their ability to move out from under poverty.

The study found that a lack of education, limited guidance, minimal role models and societal preconceptions have a serious, long-term impact on women’s careers and futures, she states.

Anna Collard, SVP content strategy and evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa.
Anna Collard, SVP content strategy and evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa.

“As we commemorate International Women’s Day, let us reflect on the positive influence of mentoring a young woman in the workplace, which can enhance not only her professional development, but also benefit the organisation as a whole.

“Whenever anybody achieves success, it’s important to remind yourself that they did not get there alone. The people who helped me get to where I am today, I remember them − many of them male colleagues or superiors.

“I am deeply indebted to them for investing in me and believing in me. Without their help and support, I definitely wouldn't have been able to make progress in the male-dominated IT industry.

“It is quite fitting then that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is investing in women to accelerate progress. Despite the strides women have made over the years − such as gaining the right to vote and advocating for equal pay − many countries still marginalise women. At the corporate level, women are equally capable of leading companies as men.”

According to Essie Mokgonyana, SAS country manager and sales director for SA, digital transformation represents both risk and opportunity for women’s inclusion in the workplace, all around the world.

The risk lies in low-skilled, often female-dominated roles – such as office administration, customer service and certain production roles – becoming obsolete through process automation, advances in robotics and implementation of generative artificial intelligence. On the other hand, the opportunity lies in economic growth, and the new jobs that a thriving digital economy will create, explains Mokgonyana.

Essie Mokgonyana, SAS country manager and sales director for SA.
Essie Mokgonyana, SAS country manager and sales director for SA.

“To ensure women can play their role in driving digitalisation and adopting technological advances as they mature or new ones emerge, there must be further focus on collaborative special programmes aimed at encouraging young girls and women to pursue their education and career in STEM fields.

“Internationally, only30% of women in higher education pursue STEM fields. In Africa, this under-representation is accentuated by the prevailing challenges of educational gaps, skills mismatch and high rates of unemployment.

“Upskilling and reskilling people for a digital-first and data-driven environment is key to minimising job losses as roles become obsolete. Accelerated digital transformation across numerous markets has amplified challenges around skills shortages and mismatch globally.

“Coupled with remote working trends, it means people with highly-sought-after skills have more choice on where they want to live and who they want to work for.

“Together, this is compounding the need to retain scarce talent, while establishing special programmes to upskill and reskill women who are already in the workplace.”

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