SA female graduates find entry into ICT-related fields

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 25 Apr 2024
Learnerships and graduate programmes prove vital for ICT sector graduates.
Learnerships and graduate programmes prove vital for ICT sector graduates.

Amid the slow progress of women representation in ICT-related fields, graduate and learnership programmes are proving vital for local young women to enter into these careers.

This was highlighted during a Huawei-hosted engagement session held ahead of International Girls in ICT Day, which is celebrated today.

The discussion focused on the challenges women face in ICT, but also celebrated the strides they are making in the historically male-dominated sector.

For the six young female beneficiaries of Huawei’s graduate programme, the initiative created opportunity for entry into the ICT field and proved to be an invaluable learning experience, in the four months since it kicked-off, they say.

Nqubeko Tshabalala, Tina Mtonga, Nozipho Mtsweni, Puseletso Mogapi, Saudah Harrar and Amogelang Monageng hold degrees in electrical engineering, business information technology and information systems technology from various higher education institutions across the country.

The young graduates revealed they discovered the programme through active bursary searches, mentors' guidance and career expos. They are now employed at Huawei South Africa, through its graduate programme, in various telecoms roles.

Harrar, an electrical engineering graduate from Wits University, has taken on the role of project control manager at Huawei.

Pretoria-born Monageng holds an electrical engineering degree from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). She is now network technical engineer, and operations and maintenance management specialist at Huawei.

Mtsweni graduated with an advanced diploma in business information technology from the University of Johannesburg, and she is now junior assistant engineer.

Also from TUT is Mogapi, who holds an informatics degree. She is now a network technology engineer, contributing to Huawei’s technical team.

Johannesburg’s Mtonga holds a BTech in information systems from the University of Pretoria. She is an account manager at Huawei.

Nqubeko is an IP product manager at Huawei, and holds a BCom honours degree in information systems and technology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Participants of the Huawei graduate programme.
Participants of the Huawei graduate programme.

Observed annually on the fourth Thursday of April, Girls in ICT Day is a global movement backed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The initiative aims to encourage girls to pursue careers in technology, aiming to bridge the gender gap in this field.

This year’s theme is leadership, to underscore the critical need for strong female role models in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Although women now fill 40% of high-skill occupations globally, their participation in ICT-related fields continues to be low. Statistics show women are nearly absent from software development, engineering, technology research and academia, as well as at the highest levels of policy-making. They also tend to leave science and technology jobs at higher rates than men.

According to the ITU, while there is a leadership gender gap in every industry, the largest gaps are found in the STEM fields. “Women in ICT often find themselves in junior or support roles rather than in managerial roles, with little opportunity for advancement. They are also less likely to hold an executive position, become ICT entrepreneurs, or be represented among science and technology policy-makers.

“To thrive in STEM, girls and young women must be exposed to women in leadership positions, fostering inspiration and breaking down barriers that hinder their progress. The Girls in ICT Day 2024 theme aims to address these challenges, encouraging empowerment and leadership development for a more equitable future in STEM.”

Mining company Anglo American notes its focus is to increase female participation in STEM and the mining industry at large.

It has implemented initiatives such as Anglo American Platinum’s community bursary scheme and an ICT learnership programme that aims to afford young women opportunities to study and acquire digital skills to participate in the industry.

According to Anglo, the recent recipients of its learnership are Joy Moloto (20) and Elisa Ndou (21), who have attained their NQF level five system development qualification as part of the Anglo American Education Programme’s post-school pathway approach.

They joined the ICT learnership to enhance their understanding of ICT beyond basic digital skills and have now secured in-service training opportunities with Anglo American’s Group IM.

“The ICT sector is huge and provides a lot of opportunities for success,” says Ndou. “My advice to girls thinking about a career in the ICT sector is to use every opportunity for learning and not let the difficulties of going into a field dominated by men deter you from pursuing it.

“Continue to be inquisitive, persevere and cultivate a network of allies who promote your development. Recall that your distinct viewpoints and abilities are priceless in promoting innovation in the technology sector,” Ndou comments.

Moloto’s advice is to embrace diversity in IT to gain fresh perspectives and foster innovation and collaboration across backgrounds. “This creates impactful solutions, while recognising that your unique insights contribute significantly to a dynamic and inclusive tech environment.”

Noluthando Dlomo, a bursary recipient, is currently studying geoinformatics at Stellenbosch University. Despite facing academic setbacks, Dlomo says she is positive in reaching her goal of working in geoinformatics, with a particular focus on map design and marketing.

“I believe there are endless amounts of information out there and it bothers me so much that I can never know all of it. And it drives me towards wanting to learn something new every day.

“I’ve had the same drive to pursue what I love and what I love only in life consistently, for this reason.”

Dlomo adds that she aspires to give back to her community by helping others from underprivileged backgrounds to achieve educational success as well.

To commemorate Girls in ICT Day, Digital Council Africa emphasises making sure girls and young women are exposed to females in leadership positions within STEM.

“Tech is a great equaliser and can be a powerful instrument for bridging the inequality gap between men and women. Internet access plays a crucial role in allowing access to ICTs. That said, we will continue towards our goal of a South Africa where everyone is empowered by the opportunities that being connected brings.”