SA’s data centre industry sees gender pay gap narrowing

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 08 Aug 2022

South Africa is seeing an increase in the number of women taking up technical roles within the data centre industry, with the gender pay gap slowly narrowing.

This is the sentiment shared by female industry insiders, who told ITWeb that while SA’s technology industry is not even close to achieving levels near gender parity, the local data centre industry has over the last few years seen pockets of improvement.

While women remain woefully underrepresented in the data centre industry, as with most technology industries, women leaders say transformation in the sector is well under way.

This is particularly the case with local multinational firms bringing an emergence of the “new dawn”, and intentionally defying the status quo in the male-dominated sector.

Gender biases continue to plague the industry as a result of societal influences, the low number of women taking up careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and workplace systems premised on unconscious biases.

However, there is an increasing number of women entering the industry and the improvement in the gender pay gap is evident, they say.

Michele McCann, head of interconnection and peering at Teraco Data Environments, says the data centre industry − which suffers from a skills dearth of particularly cloud computing, technical and operations engineers − has seen more women take up these roles.

“We are starting to see an increase in women being interested in the technical roles within the data centre environment. And that includes anything from cable engineers to mechanical and electrical engineers.

Michele McCann, head of interconnection and peering at Teraco Data Environments.
Michele McCann, head of interconnection and peering at Teraco Data Environments.

“Across the industry, there's been an increased focus on the skill-set of the employee. The industry places much focus on skills, and the salary is not necessarily determined by gender. At Teraco, we employ data centre employees based on skill-set and pay them accordingly,” explains McCann.

A recent survey conducted by global recruitment firm Hired found that men in the technology field across the globe earned a higher pay cheque than their female counterparts 59% of the time for same position. It further points out that female candidates for tech jobs received wages 3% lower than their male counterparts.

Akhona Nkalitshane, a cyber security product manager at Rectron, an Acronis cyber protection solutions distributor , adds that SA’s enormous ICT skills gap has created a shift in companies not being gender-specific in the workforce they hire.

“The salary gap is narrowing in the data entre industry. Women now have opportunities to upskill themselves and it is a different generation of women altogether. It is a generation of women hungry for success and determined to break barriers.

“Companies are now closing in on having both genders remunerated according to their roles, especially if all skills requirements are met. The processes may already be in place, but it will take time to completely close that gap,” asserts Nkalitshane.

However, being a woman in a male-dominated industry comes with challenges, with women being subjected to “lack of trust issues” by their male colleagues – particularly regarding conducting technical duties, she adds.

In addition, women, being primary caregivers of children, are often forced to make career sacrifices in order to look after their family, continues Nkalitshane.

Akhona Nkalitshane, cyber security product manager at Rectron.
Akhona Nkalitshane, cyber security product manager at Rectron.

“Women have to work 10 times more to prove themselves. You would swear that by default, women are not meant to do anything that a man can do. Issues around unequal pay are still there across the sector even though women have equal responsibilities to men.”

Ashika Maken, human resources manager at Africa Data Centres, says the growing interest from international hyperscalers that want to invest in building data centre operations in Africa has led to a direct increase in interest from more women applying for roles in the sector, particularly in key accounts management, finance, and health and safety.

“With the increase in adoption of cloud and digital technologies, data centres have become a highly sought-after and recognised industry among women, both on the continent and beyond. With a growing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, equal pay for work of equal value is a fair and equitable approach that is being adopted in the industry,” she notes.

Despite the steady global increase of women in leadership positions over time, the technology industry falls short of achieving levels near gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022.

The report notes female representation in leadership positions within the tech industry for 2022 is recorded at 24%, versus 76% of men that occupy these roles.

This is largely due to the low number of girls who take up STEM-related subjects at school, which hinders them taking up ICT-related courses at tertiary-level institutions.

However, in recent years, many private and government organisations have stepped up efforts to support and encourage girls to take up careers in the STEM fields.

“Across the industry, there are amazing initiatives set up globally where technology-focused educational initiatives are addressing a number of the challenges worldwide. Furthermore, companies are stepping up to state that we shouldn’t necessarily focus on gender during the hiring process, but rather focus on skills, because that is where the actual gap exists,” adds McCann.

Nkalitshane states: “We have passed the era where women were not given opportunities to go to school or enrol in STEM education. Take away the gender bias and have women given the same opportunities as men. It is understandable to hire men only in fields where physical strength is important.”

Ashika Maken, human resources manager at Africa Data Centre.
Ashika Maken, human resources manager at Africa Data Centre.