Tech to enable empowerment for SA women, says Kekana

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Deputy communications and digital technologies minister, Pinky Kekana.
Deputy communications and digital technologies minister, Pinky Kekana.

The imbalance between men and women representation in the technology sector is unlikely to be remedied, unless corporates, government and academia partner to change entrenched perceptions about the industry being a “male industry”.

So said communications and digital technologies deputy minister, Pinky Kekana, speaking at the inaugural Standard Bank Women in ICT event where local technology start-up, Ejoobi, was crowned the overall winner of the competition.

The competition, spearheaded by Standard Bank in partnership with the department of communications and digital technologies, seeks to celebrate women leaders in the tech space. It gives a platform to five women-owned companies to pitch for a chance to win development and funding support to the value of R300 000, following a rigorous selection process.

During her keynote address, Kekana, an advocate of women empowerment in the tech space, said despite decades of certain progress towards achieving equality in the workplace, women remain significantly underrepresented in the tech sector.

The deputy minister stressed the importance of everyone taking responsibility to educate young people about the dynamics and range of careers in tech, particularly young women and girls. 

“For women to play their part in this sector, we have to partner with big corporates to make sure that through their programmes – whether it is training and development, incubation or other related initiatives – we as government forge public, private partnerships to make sure that our women are not left behind.”

Referencing stats of women representation in the global ICT workforce, Kekana noted that of the 30% of women that work in the sector, only a small proportion are in the formal ICT sector.

This, she emphasised, indicates that many women are losing out on equal pay, social rights and protection, and promotion possibilities. In SA, for example, 51% of those working in the ICT sector are women, but only 22% are employed in formal jobs, Kekana added.

“Today, I urge you to spread the message of technology being an enabler and an opportunity for women to participate in the economy and give themselves and their children an opportunity for a better life.”

Economies of scale

According to Kekana, gender parity in the workplace is not just an ethical and moral issue, but also an economic one.

She said that a McKinsey research report found that $12 trillion could be added to the global gross domestic product by 2025 by advancing women equality.

The World Economic Forum has found that women in SA earn 60 cents for every R1 earned by their male counterpart, she continued.

“The lack of female representation in the workforce, especially in leadership positions, is another barrier to gender equality. In SA, for every 10 men only eight women are employed or actively looking for work; even though women make up more than half of the working age population.”

Just like it has been stressed by industry commentators and various government officials, Kekana also said STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] is “obviously the answer to bring more women, especially young girls, into ICT-related and skilled jobs.” 

She continued: “Levelling the playing field to include more women in skilled jobs, especially in the emerging tech environment, is of paramount financial importance for businesses and has broader socio-economic implications to countries looking to prosper.

“Countries need to pay attention to the gender gap, not only because it makes business sense, but because such inequality is inherently unfair.

“In the era of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), emerging tech is revolutionising the world; but how many women are contributing towards shaping this new world? Emerging tech is only as well rounded as the people who teach it and create it.

“The responsibility to be open to change and reinvention does not lie with our employers, it lies with us. If we believe in the changes of 4IR being upon us, we must train ourselves and our daughters in the relevant skills,” she concluded.    

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