Boosting women in the ICT sector
The discussion about female participation and gender equality in the ICT sector has been going around for years, and is still under the spotlight today.
"The reasons why are many and varied," says Jacques Fouch'e, MD of the DVT Global Testing Centre (GTC), a division of software development and testing company DVT.
"The vocational choices available within the broad umbrella of IT are not being given sufficient airtime at schools, and there is inadequate understanding of the career paths available. For many girls, it doesn't seem like a viable option and they don't even consider it," says Fouch'e.
Incorrect subject choice also contributes to the gender divide, says Fouch'e. "Schools must ensure that female students in Grade 7 and 9 have access to information about the many career options available in the technology sector," he says. "Subject combinations are particularly important in Grade 9. It is also important to counsel these students early, otherwise they may realise too late they want to change into an IT stream but cannot, due to their subject choices."
Additionally, says Fouch'e, there needs to be sufficient focus on achievement of higher marks. The entry level to a post-matric IT course is high, so if you are an average maths student, your chances of getting in decrease significantly. An IT career usually begins at school, but for many young women, low grades in key subjects means that this is, sadly, where their IT career ends."
Squeezing too hard
Post-school, female candidates who are able to complete a recognised IT certification and who have worked for a year are in high demand. "This is particularly true for those who were previously disadvantaged," says Fouch'e.
"The lack of scarce skills in the IT sector means that many candidates who are starting out in the workplace are headhunted for corporates with EE targets, offering big salaries that are out of line with the market.
"The candidate's lack of experience may only become evident several months into the job. In many instances, they are being squeezed too hard and become overwhelmed, which can result in performance-related issues. If these candidates want to move on, they may find they are overpriced. The other end of the spectrum is moving from job to job for very small salary increases, without gaining solid knowledge in their specific field."
Fouche does not believe either option is advantageous to young women. "For instance, at the DVT Global Testing Centre, we encourage our young female interns to see the value of sustaining their tenure at a company, to build up their working experience. This gives young female learners a solid platform from which to grow their careers, develop their strengths and become confident in their skills," says Fouch'e.
He says DVT has a highly transparent internship programme with self-development and a clearly defined curriculum. "All our interns, male and female, are expected to show commitment. In return, they receive salary increases every three months as a reward for high achievement, as well as soft skills development, constant mentoring and support.
"We expect our interns to stick it out for at least 18 to 24 months. After this, if they want to move within the company or move on, we are supportive. However, we do not believe that our interns who have not yet finished their tenure, but who insist on moving for very little extra financial reward, are doing themselves any favours."
Fouche also acknowledges the importance of companies accommodating the needs and circumstances of their learners. In light of this, the DVT GTC recently opened an Automated Regression Testing Centre in Johannesburg, in addition to its Cape Town-based facility.
"Many of our interns are based in Johannesburg, and they want to remain close to home, often due to financial constraints. In other instances, we have interns from the Eastern Cape, in which case our Western Cape facility is more suitable."
DVT employs over 230 testers nationally, with just over 100 based at the DVT Global Testing Centre. Within that, one quarter is female.