SAP Next-Gen brings 'Women in Data Science' to SA

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SAP Africa MD Cathy Smith.
SAP Africa MD Cathy Smith.

SAP Next-Gen has launched the local chapter of Women in Data Science (WiDS), an initiative that seeks to educate female data scientists and encourage them to enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Launched in partnership with Stanford University, the WiDS initiative is part of a global movement that aims to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, having started as a conference at Stanford in November 2015.

Today, WiDS includes global networking platforms, with over 150 regional events worldwide, consisting of a 'datathon', encouraging participants to hone their skills; and a podcast, featuring leaders in the field regularly talking about their work and their journeys.

Speaking at the inaugural WiDS conference at Wits University's Tshimologong Precinct in Johannesburg today, SAP Africa MD Cathy Smith said the initiative seeks to go beyond hosting an annual conference, to provide a networking platform for current and aspiring female participants in the 21st century digital economy.

"The IT industry is a brutal industry, particularly for women. It is vital that we empower women and girls to become active collaborators, innovators and business leaders in the STEM fields and unlock technology's potential to effect positive change across our continent," noted Smith.

"We see the WiDS initiative as a powerful platform for the advancement of gender equality in the data science field, and a key contributor to our efforts to accelerate progress towards the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); in particular SDG 5, which aims to foster global gender equality."

SAP Next-Gen is a purpose-driven innovation university and community for the SAP ecosystem, enabling companies, partners and universities to connect and innovate with purposes linked to the 17 UN SDGs.

Advancing women's equality could add $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025, but only 26% of data professionals are women, according to a recent US study, asserted Smith.

"Data science is the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution. With technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of things, augmented reality and machine learning considered important elements of the revolution, the science of data is central to all of these technologies, as it spurs the most innovative products and services used by both consumers and organisations."

The WiDS initiative, she continued, is the culmination of a long-standing partnership with the Tshimologong Precinct, which has already seen the establishment of other projects in the lCT space.

"Through our collaboration with Tshimologong and other partners, we are hoping to create a much stronger replication of what SAP is already doing globally. We recently partnered with Tshimologong to launch the Start-up Guide, which seeks to guide entrepreneurs while equipping them with ICT support. We also have a monthly gathering of women called Girls Lounge, where women gather and tackle important issues relating to their careers and other areas of their lives."

Lesley Williams, CEO of Tshimologong Precinct, said: "We are proud to host the South African chapter of this esteemed global movement. This platform aims to create a supportive environment that connects women from different data science disciplines to drive innovation and collaboration.

"The local ICT field is plagued by various challenges, such as women under-representation, the work-family conflict, and general misconceptions regarding women. This platform seeks to find viable resolutions to these and more."

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