Tech sector’s gender inequality status quo demands disruption

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As South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in August, deep-rooted inequalities remain in the country’s economic systems, with women in the ICT sector reportedly earning 20% to 25% less than their male counterparts.

While there are more women entering careers in the local science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields than ever before, women remain significantly underrepresented, with the imbalance being a worldwide phenomenon.

Women in the ICT sector say in addition to underrepresentation, gender disparity still plagues many ICT firms, with men earning higher salaries than women and to some extent, still being considered as better leaders.

Only 23% of tech jobs are held by women in SA – out of 236 000 ICT roles, women occupy 56 000 of them, according to a study by Women in Tech ZA.

Millicent Raikane, product head at FNB Connect & Service Provider, says while government and corporates are increasingly supporting initiatives aimed at encouraging young girls to enter STEM fields, the status quo is changing at a snail's pace. Remuneration packages earned by women in ICT are still lower than those earned by their male counterparts, she adds.

“I definitely think there is a huge pay gap in ICT, not only in SA but across the globe. When you look at the stats quoted by research, it shows women in ICT earn around 20% to 25% less than their male counterparts.

“Although a lot is being done to improve the current corporate gender disparities within the sector, I honestly think change of the current status quo is very slow. Every single year the issues remain and this is mainly because companies in the ICT sector and other sectors are not moving quickly enough to narrow this gap and resolve the existing disparities.”

Raikane points out that she started a career in construction and ended up leaving the field because, as a 22-year-old female, she was subjected to poor and unfair working conditions, inequitable compensation and lack of support in the industry – issues which many South African women across most fields still experience today.

“I had to go back to university and embark on a new course to enter the ICT field. As a woman of colour, I can safely say that black women are even further marginalised and we don’t see enough of them in the C-level executive positions in ICT. This is because of the limited opportunities, information, resources and career guidance received by women in the black community, which results in a limited number of women that access careers in in the local STEM fields,” adds Raikane.

Millicent Raikane, product head at FNB Connect & Service Provider.
Millicent Raikane, product head at FNB Connect & Service Provider.

Non-disclosure of gender pay gaps

According to PwC’s “Executive Directors: Practices and remuneration trends report 2020”, released on Friday,the gender pay gap is wider for executives in large-cap JSE-listed companies and differs according to industry type.

Across large-cap companies, the gender pay gap is most significant at 45%, with a marginal improvement in medium-cap (39%) and a 25% pay gap in the small-cap sector. On a per industry basis, the differences in pay gaps between industries are stark, ranging from 7% in financial, to 34% in the real estate industry.

Anastacia Tshesane, transformation, diversity and inclusion leader for PwC Southern Africa, points out that although South African women are making great strides within the workplace, corporate South Africa has more work to do to effectively transform boardrooms.

“It is no surprise that companies which actively promote and advance women to the highest levels of management and leadership tend to have more engaged boards with a greater diversity of talent. Women’s Month serves as a reminder of the urgency for closing gender imbalances in the workplace throughout SA. Despite broad acknowledgement that gender and diversity issues should be addressed, there is a lack of clarity as to what steps should be taken to effect lasting change in this regard,” notes Tshesane.

SA does not yet legally require the disclosure of gender pay gaps, but reporting on this issue is an opportunity for companies to demonstrate tangible actions relating to their commitments to diversity, equality and inclusion, according to PwC.

Speaking at the commemoration of the 64th anniversary of Women’s Day on Sunday, president Cyril Ramaphosa said there is so much more to be done to resolve gender inequality issues in SA.

“Women still face discrimination, harassment and violence, and bear the greatest brunt of poverty. If we are to truly realise the promise of our constitution, we have to tackle the economic and financial exclusion that makes women more vulnerable to abuse and violence.”

The president noted that a number of commitments under the United Nation’s Generation Equality Campaign will be given effect through the National Strategic Plan.

“Firstly, we are going to drive women’s economic inclusion through public procurement. We have set the target of ensuring at least 40% of goods and services procured by public entities are sourced from women-owned businesses,” noted Ramaphosa.

Government will also scale up support for women-owned SMMEs and for women who work in the informal sector or are unemployed.

Mireille Umuhoza, COO of Afri Ride.
Mireille Umuhoza, COO of Afri Ride.

“The technology sector is the third most sexist industry maintaining a gender pay gap, wherein women earn about 23% to 25% less than their male counterparts,” says Mireille Umuhoza, COO of Afri Ride.

“However, I believe the gap will be narrowed within the next three to five years. This is taking into consideration the continuous increase in women in the tech industry, the labour laws that protect whistle-blowers and the frequency of conversations being held in workplaces and social media about the gender pay gap.”

Umuhoza believes ICT executives have an important role to play in refraining from traditional mind-sets when hiring and paying employees their salaries’ worth. “The gatekeeping of positions, especially high positions in technology companies, should be called out. Companies should actively play a part in this reform by disclosing how they decide on salaries paid to their employees and what factors are used to determine their different salaries.”

Moira de Roche, non-executive director of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa and chairperson of IFIP International Professional Practice Partnership, says while there is underrepresentation of senior women in the ICT sector, “I don’t believe there is an IT company or IT manager in SA who would discriminate against women, particularly if you consider that there is an IT skills shortage in the industry, that most companies are actively trying to employ more women in IT, and that all reputable companies have pay gradings and pay scales in place to determine what people are paid at what level.”

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