Women at work
Doing more for women, faster, is the role of ICT in SA.
By radically simplifying the extensive and manifold contribution of women to SA's struggle for emancipation, it can be broken down into roughly three stages.
ICT is the industry of now and the future.
While women in SA have been challengers of institutionalised racism since at least the turn of the last century, in many ways it was the fledgling trade union movement of the 1920s that led to the ultimate realisation that women had an equal role to play in the country's liberation.
That realisation soon gave way to the actual participation phase, which saw women rising to positions of political importance as organisers, in particular, as evidenced in the example of the famous 1956 Women's March to the Union Buildings.
The emancipation phase that followed has seen women occupy 40% of parliamentary seats. In addition, the 50% target for women's representation in all areas of decision-making is enshrined in the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development, adopted in SA eight years ago.
Grassroots women, too, are being absorbed into the labour force and being presented with economic opportunities, as SME business owners, at a much greater rate than ever before. Women are well represented within the ranks of small business owners, and this is encouraging, especially if one considers that SMEs employ a large percentage of the country's workforce.
However, while there is much still to be done, SA is fortunate in that it boasts a vibrant and growing ICT sector that is able to direct its significant capacity for innovation towards the advancement of women in SA. The ICT and broadcast industries occupy a pivotal position within the greater South African economy, contributing as much as 10% to the country's gross domestic product. In addition, the fact that the sector is a visible one means it has the capacity to change perceptions and to advance SA's transformation goals.
There are NGOs like Women'sNet that works to advance gender equality and justice in SA specifically through the use of ICTs. The South African Women in ICT Forum champions transformation at the level of commerce and industry. In addition, there are myriad technology-focused initiatives introduced by the public and private sector that use ICTs to improve the daily lives of rural and urban women and girls alike. And last month saw the launch of the SA Communication Forum's ICT Achiever's Awards, which specifically celebrate women in ICT, with a special award category of that name.
Statistics released last year by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals indicate 56% of ICT professional jobs are held by women globally. Unfortunately, the situation in SA is not as rosy. Although women constitute 55% of the country's workforce, a mere 32% of the ICT workforce comprises women, according to research conducted by BMI TechKnowledge and the SA Women in ICT Forum.
This is certainly better than the situation 20 years ago, but the game needs to be raised if South Africans want to avoid waiting another 20 years to achieve workplace parity. With so few women working in the ICT sector, it's critical to celebrate those who have achieved through initiatives such as the ICT Achievers Awards, because they really have excelled against all odds.
Find a mentor
Finally, what of those women who have yet to achieve? Perhaps it would be pertinent to conclude with some concrete advice for those women and girls still wishing to enter the ICT sector, or who have yet to make a name for themselves in an unfamiliar environment.
Here are some tips I have found useful:
Remember that ICT is the industry of now and the future. The world is moving to a knowledge economy of an information society. It is one of the most exciting industries in which to build a future-oriented career. And it is one that is at the forefront of progressive employment policies and innovations when it comes to motivating employees in interesting ways.
ICT provides for greater flexibility and innovation in the workplace. This is seen in the fact that many ICT companies are accepting of and promote flexible approaches empowered by technology that will benefit working mothers, in particular.
Finally, it is vitally important that would-be participants in this sector look out for mentorship opportunities. The ability to learn from successful women - and men - across all industries, is a great predictor of success.
Loren Braithwaite Kabosha is an executive director of the South African Communications Forum, and chairperson, Consumer Advisory Panel, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. Braithwaite Kabosha is also a principal consultant on ICT policy for Layela Consulting.