Cisco creates tech engineers club for women

Read time 3min 40sec
Clayton Naidoo, Cisco's GM for Sub-Saharan Africa.
Clayton Naidoo, Cisco's GM for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Cisco SA has introduced the "By the Numbers Ladies Tech Engineers Club", a training and mentorship programme aimed at encouraging female participation and career advancement in the local science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field.

The initiative is part of the IT and networking giant's global vision to help address the gender gap in the ICT sector, by nurturing more women in the sector to become Cisco-certified engineers.

Cisco has several global programmes and resources to help women develop their ICT skills as individual contributors, managers and executives, including the Cisco Connected Women and Women Rock-IT programmes.

Speaking to ITWeb on the side-lines of the "Women of Impact" event in Bryanston, Johannesburg yesterday, Clayton Naidoo, Cisco's GM for Sub-Saharan Africa, said the initiative was born out of the need for more diversity and female participation in the traditionally male-dominated high-tech industry.

"There is a fundamental problem when the unemployment rate is 27% of the country's population. As Cisco, we want to do our bit in bridging that gap by focusing on the ICT sector, which has very low levels of female representation.

"The initiative aims to provide a platform where women can get access to training opportunities and eventually receive the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), which is the second highest level of technical certification one can get in the software engineering industry."

The CCIE certification was established to assist the industry in distinguishing the top echelon of internetworking experts worldwide and to assess expert-level infrastructure network design skills worldwide.

There are currently only two women in Cisco SA who hold this level of certification, which can take between five and seven years to obtain.

Other certifications to be offered by the programme include the Cisco Certified Network Associate certification, the Cisco Certified Network Professional certification, and the Certified Entry Networking Technician certification.

The programme will be formally launched in the next few weeks and will take a cohort of participants from seven provinces across the country.

"Every member of the 'By the Numbers Ladies Tech Engineers Club' will have their own personal target. Depending on the level of courses completed, students will be equipped with skills to become software engineers, analysts, call centre first line support agents, associate engineers, network engineers, security engineers, network designers, solutions architecture and more."

Elelwani Munzhedzi, technical consultant engineer at Cisco.
Elelwani Munzhedzi, technical consultant engineer at Cisco.

Women underrepresentation

Only 23% of tech jobs are held by women in South Africa, notes WomeninTechZA.

According to The Global Gender Gap Index, only 13% of South African graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are women. This, despite SA being ranked 19th out of 144 countries in the gap between women and men on health, education, economic and political indicators.

Elelwani Munzhedzi, technical consultant engineer at Cisco, pointed out that the club aims to provide women with access to resources, community support and funding, creating an opportunity for employability and longevity in the industry.

"The programme not only aims to create credible engineers who specialise in different fields of the fraternity, but we also want them to stay in the field on a long-term basis. Research shows that a large number of females who enter the industry don't stay.

"So we want to mentor members to maintain passion for tech engineering and also encourage our partners and other ICT companies to employ females and encourage gender diversity in the sector."

A study, published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2017, shows women who enter the engineering field leave due to key factors such as poor and unfair working conditions, inequitable compensation and inflexible work environments.

"Oftentimes, women engineers find themselves grappling with various challenges and they don't know how to deal with them, so we want to support and provide them with guidance and survival expertise."

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