Technology firms look to tackle gender disparity

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 19 Jun 2023

ICT companies are launching new initiatives to address the ongoing gender disparity in STEM-related jobs, as reflected in local and international statistics.

In September last year, Marie-Louise Zitzke, chief people officer at 4Sight, quoted Forbes research, which claimed in South Africa only 13% of graduates in STEM subjects are female.

Referencing a pilot project by 4Sight to train 50 youngsters in sought-after skills in KwaZulu-Natal, Zitzke said the aim was to ensure 60% of the intake was female.

She also pointed to Deloitte research, which indicates that major technology companies will achieve 33% female representation in their workforces in 2022, and that women will hold 40% of jobs in technology within the next five to 10 years.

According to Argentina-based global software development and staff augmentation company BairesDev, while there is progress in terms of the representation of women in technology, there is still a significant gap.

Research by the technology solutions provider showed that while approximately 46% of the total US workforce is made up of women, in terms of STEM fields, women represent only 28% of the workforce.

“In big tech, women are outnumbered. At Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft, female employees comprise 45%, 37%, 34%, 33% and 29% of the total workforce respectively. In terms of leadership jobs, they represent 29%, 34%, 31%, 28% and 26% respectively. Those numbers decline even further when we focus solely on tech roles,” the company stated.

“During the pandemic and recession, women in the tech industry were two times as likely as their male counterparts to be furloughed or laid off. Large, global technology companies were expected to reach nearly 33% overall female representation in 2022 on average. This is slightly over a 2% increase from 2019,” it added.

Research also showed that 52% of women claimed that businesses would be better equipped to attract more women to tech jobs if they had more female role models.

Young Women in Tech programme

Multinational Chinese firm Huawei recently announced the launch of a Young Women in Tech programme via its ICT Academy.

The programme runs from 21 to 28 June 2023.

Key statistics from BairesDev

  • Just 25% of start-ups have a female founder, while 37% of start-ups have at least one woman sitting on their board of directors.
  • Fifty-three percent of start-ups have at least one woman in an executive role.
  • Seventy-two percent of women in tech say they are outnumbered by men in business meetings by 2:1 or more, as of 2021. Meanwhile, 26% of these women say they are outnumbered by 5:1 or more.
  • Many C-level executives believe we will reach gender equality in leadership by 2030, but 56% of the same executives said their companies did not have a plan in place for realising this.
  • Only 5% of leadership positions in the tech sector are held by women.
  • Forbes Fortune 500 companies saw a 66% increase in ROI if they had at least three women in leadership positions in 2020.

The course is open to all young women who are either currently studying in the ICT field or who would like to in the future.

Huawei confirmed the programme is entirely online and will cover topics including artificial intelligence (AI), big data and cloud computing. The initial training will then be followed by masterclasses in each of the topics, taking place from 3 to 17 July and will culminate in final exams to be written in the first week of August.

Successful students will then receive the career certification in the relevant course.

The company confirmed that anyone wanting to participate must fill in the online application form before 20 June.

Vanashree Govender, media relations and communications manager at Huawei South Africa, said: “We know how important it is to ensure that women have the skills needed to participate equitably in a field that’s traditionally been male-dominated. Following the success of our previous programmes in 2021 and 2022, we felt that it was important to expand it to young women. Women currently make up just 13% of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, meaning that we all have roles to play when it comes to ensuring that the sector is as equitable as possible.”

Tabani Njaba, who will be handling the big data track of the course programme, added: “As women, we often underestimate ourselves. Programmes like this provide a great opportunity for young women to unleash their full potential.”

Starleen Mangozho, who is facilitating the cloud computing section of the course, said: “It’s a privilege to be in a position to empower young women, especially in a field that’s as traditionally male-dominated as technology.”