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Introducing girls to IT

Read time 2min 10sec

While women may make up 51% of the world's population; in the IT industry they lack proportional representation.

Unsurprisingly, issues that affect women in the tech industry often don't get enough attention.

Enyo Kumahor, regional MD and CEO for ThoughtWorks Africa, will address this subject at QualityLife's Wired Women event in Johannesburg next week.

"One of the things I'd like to see more is women being more involved in creating solutions to the problems that impact women the most," she says.

While women are seldom openly prevented from entering IT fields, they do face many challenges, according to Kumahor. For instance, she says, they may find it difficult to express their opinions about their particular technology needs, or may struggle to find a sense of belonging in a classroom that is made up mostly of male students studying computers.

ThoughtWorks is involved in the Black Girls Code initiative, a programme that takes girls aged between seven and 17 from underprivileged backgrounds and teaches them programming. Kumahor says within a single session, she has seen girls going from asking questions like "What is the Internet?" to building their own Web sites.

The local chapter of Black Girls Code is almost a year old. According to Kumahor, roughly 60% of those who attend one session will return for the next session. The number of girls involved in each session depends on the number of volunteers (they work on a two girls to one volunteer ratio). Seventy girls attended the last session in Johannesburg.

The Black Girls Code works hand-in-hand with local NGOs to identify candidates.

"There's this belief that women have to be men in order to move up in the world and to achieve in science and technology fields," says Kumahor. "The work environment needs to change to accept women as equals while still being women."

She believes that girls need mentorship programmes, like Black Girls Code, to see that woman can participate in the tech space.

"For me, the biggest change I've seen in the girls - and this happens even within the four to five hours - is it opens up their eyes to the possibilities. They realise that if they can build a Web site within five hours, what are they capable of within 10 years?"

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