SA tech firms commit to hiring more women

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 09 Mar 2023

As the world commemorated International Women’s Day yesterday, local tech firms marked the day by reinforcing their commitment to hiring more female employees.

They highlighted efforts to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace as part of their organisational structure.

While there are more women entering careers in the local science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields than ever before, women remain significantly underrepresented, with the imbalance being a worldwide phenomenon.

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

Hundreds of organisations across the globe joined the International Women’s Day call to action, to urge firms to promote workplace gender equality, particularly in leadership positions.

Local tech firms Cisco, Seacom South Africa and SAP Africa say they have introduced programmes and initiatives to strengthen their gender equality efforts.

In addition to underrepresentation, gender disparity still plagues many ICT firms, with most men earning higher salaries than women, and to some extent, still being considered as better leaders.

Cisco Sub-Saharan Africa MD Hani Raad says Cisco has introduced a range of recruiting programmes focused on increasing diversity and fostering an inclusive workplace focused on hiring more women.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the networking giant has a higher than global average of female employees, with female representation at 34%.

“Cisco has set a goal to increase its global female workforce representation by 3% annually, with a long-term goal of reaching gender parity in its workforce. The company tracks its progress towards this goal through regular reports and updates,” Raad notes.

“We have introduced recruiting programmes focused on increasing diversity internally and externally, including the Cisco Women's Network, which provides mentoring, networking and career development opportunities for women, and the Cisco Networking Academy, which provides training and education for students from diverse backgrounds.”

According to Raad, Cisco's leaders are held accountable for creating an inclusive culture and promoting diversity in the workplace.

“The company regularly tracks and reports on its progress towards these goals, and leaders are evaluated on their ability to meet diversity and inclusion targets. Cisco conducts regular pay equity analyses to ensure all employees are paid fairly, regardless of gender or other demographic factors,” he adds.

A survey conducted by tech event Africa Tech Festival, in partnership with tech news portal Connecting Africa, released this week, reveals parity for women in tech-related positions and industries is still a way off, due to several challenges.

According to the research, COVID-19 had a major role in blocking women’s advancement. Women are further hampered in their progression by a cost-of-living crisis and lack of access to funding.

While there have been efforts to improve gender diversity in SA’s tech sector, industry pundits say there is still much work to be done.

The status quo is due to societal influences and biases, the low number of women taking up careers in the STEM fields and workplace systems premised on unconscious biases.

South African companies that have implemented diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives include Accenture SA, Dimension Data, IBM SA, Vodacom Group, MTN SA and Microsoft SA.

Genevieve Koolen, human resources director at SAP Africa, tells ITWeb the software company is committed to diversity and inclusion across all facets of the business. The initiatives have resulted in it achieving 50% female employees across the business and 40% at senior management level.

“We have agreed and committed at executive leadership level in the local business to be intentional about our recruitment practices. This means we have ring-fenced specific roles for a number of years so that we could actively seek young female talent for those positions.

“This has resulted in us now having 50% female employees across the business and we continue to do this at the most senior levels in our business. Our aim is to move from 40% to 50% women in senior management positions,” she notes.

Genevieve Koolen, human resources director at SAP Africa.
Genevieve Koolen, human resources director at SAP Africa.

SAP Africa is also promoting young female technical talent through its internship programme, Koolen points out.

“The secret to success is in being clear about the roles, the requirements, and then actively seeking the right people in those categories. Elevating and promoting women who are great performers and helping them to build long-term careers is one of our priorities at SAP. We also provide training, mentorship and coaching for female talent,” she points out.

Soraya Bagus, chief human resources officer at Seacom South Africa, says the company has put firm employment equity targets in place and uses these as a part of the recruitment process.

“Seacom currently has a 60/40 male/female split. We have introduced interventions to help develop and support women based on their career trajectory. Hiring managers are mandated to fill vacancies with women that have the right skill, where possible.

“Seacom implemented a focused equality drive in 2021, with some of the interventions being formal training in technical certifications, as well as leadership programmes for our existing women employees,” explains Bagus.

The subsea cable company is looking at introducing a ‘women in STEM’ programme, to promote a better gender balance in its technical operational areas.

This, she adds, would entail partnerships with non-profit organisations which run women coding programmes and initiatives that include a focus on the future technologies, like artificial intelligence, big data, robotics and the internet of things.

Commenting on the hurdles faced by women in tech, she adds: “The perception in the industry is that women cannot be as technical as men, therefore, they cannot be technical experts. We are documenting development plans for our women, which includes technical certifications and leadership programmes. We already have highly-skilled women in the product, solutions architect, support and heads of department in HR.”

Soraya Bagus, chief human resources officer at Seacom South Africa.
Soraya Bagus, chief human resources officer at Seacom South Africa.