The doors are open

The traditional view that the IT industry is unwelcoming to women is becoming less and less true – but there is still room for more progress. By Marie-Louise Zitzke, Chief People Officer, 4Sight.

Johannesburg, 22 Sep 2022
Marie-Louise Zitzke, Chief People Officer, 4Sight.
Marie-Louise Zitzke, Chief People Officer, 4Sight.

Another Women’s Month has rolled by and it’s all too easy to see it as largely a window-dressing exercise. But, in the tech industry at least, we are making progress in achieving better gender representation. Certainly, from where I sit, there is a definite desire on the part of technology companies to make themselves more attractive to women, not least because they increasingly have the skills we all need.

These opportunities are being driven by the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Of course, in true IT style, there’s a lot of hype about it in the media and politicians’ speeches, but it is definitely making a growing impact in the real world, especially in areas like mining, manufacturing, energy and water.

At its most fundamental level, the 4IR is all about bringing together two previously separate worlds: the real world of engineers and engineering-heavy processes, and the virtual world of IT, digital business processes and artificial intelligence.

Think of it as the coming together of operational technologies (OT) and IT within the context of the business environment.

Technology companies active in the 4IR thus have a big call not only for traditional IT skills, but also for specialised engineers (mining, electrical, civil and so on). The 4IR is also creating a need for data specialists of different kinds. Data, and the ability to analyse it effectively, is widely recognised as the biggest driver of competitive advantage going forward, and so these scarce skills are likely to remain in high demand for the foreseeable future.

The converged IT/OT environment and the growing discipline of data science all represent a huge opportunity for women for several reasons. One is the huge demand. A second is that many of these jobs are ideally suited for a work-from-home or hybrid working style, something that suits many women, as they typically bear the heaviest burden when it comes to childcare. Technology companies are especially open to this kind of more flexible work style and have the systems and technology in place to make it practical as we emerge out of crisis mode into a new form of “business as usual”. For 4IR companies like ours, it is an opportunity to attract and retain these scarce skills that cannot be ignored.

And a third factor is that there are already many women in the industry who create a more welcoming atmosphere for women, despite both the technology and engineering fields’ reputation as male-dominated environments. Deloitte research indicates that large technology companies will achieve 33% female representation in their workforces this year, up around 2% on 2019.[1] Even better, it is predicted that women will hold 40% of jobs in technology within the next five to 10 years.[2] The growth is slow, but the trend is definitely in the right direction. The power of role models and mentors cannot be overestimated.

Then there’s huge progress that’s been made in getting women to study STEM subjects at university. In science and engineering, globally, women are getting Bachelor’s degrees in almost the same quantities as men, though they are lagging in Computer Science (16% of undergraduate degrees in 2017).[3]

Growing one’s own timber

The picture in South Africa is less rosy, particularly when one considers the pipeline of young women with the right kind of qualifications. Only 13% of graduates in STEM subjects are female[4] and there have been repeated calls for more women to be encouraged into these “future-critical” disciplines. It’s also not clear that university curricula are keeping up with what industry needs. The bottom line is that companies are increasingly taking responsibility for growing their own timber.

4Sight has launched a pilot project in KwaZulu-Natal, which will see 50 young people given intensive training in the skills we need, with a commitment to employ them when they are certified. The aim is that 60% of this intake will be female.

The project has been driven and executed by our COO, Tracy Short, and she chose KwaZulu-Natal in order to tap into a fresh talent pool outside of Gauteng. If the project is successful, we aim to triple the intake in 2023. We are committed to this project. I’m also happy to say that the young women who join our company will find that women already make up around 40% of our workforce and so we trust the environment will be welcoming. They will also have the benefit of strong female role models and mentors, including Short herself.

Women continue to face headwinds when it comes to building careers in the IT industry, but the tide is definitely turning. The biggest factor in their favour is that the industry needs the skills they could offer, and perceptions about a hostile, male-dominated environment are rapidly becoming outdated. The doors are unlocked, awaiting a new generation of young women with the right skills to turn the handle.

[1] Susanne Hupfer, Sayantani Mazumder, Ariane Bucaille and Gillian Crossan, “Women in the tech industry: Gaining ground, but facing new headwinds”, available at

[2] Darina Lynkova, “Women in technology statistics: What’s new in 2022?”, Techjury (3 June 2022), available at

[3] Sarah K White, “Women in tech statistics: The hard truths of an uphill battle”, CIO (8 March 2021), available at

[4] Mark Kantrowitz, “Women achieve gains in STEM fields”, Forbes (7 April 2022), available at


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