Gender diversity is an ongoing challenge for many industries, including ICT. In South Africa, women make up only 23% of the IT workforce. If the sector is going to attract and retain more women, action needs to be taken.
EMC’s Client Solutions Director Charlene George, says women in the sector need to speak out, share their experiences and show young women and girls, particularly, that there are women in the tech sector and that it offers a wide range of career options.
“We also need to address the stigma that girls don’t enjoy math and that they therefore can’t be good at it,” she says.
Channel Sales Leader Chipo Msimanga comments, “It starts in the classroom, we need to look at how we teach these subjects – are we keeping children excited and engaged when we’re teaching maths and science? We need to keep it relevant – instead of talking to people about speeds and feeds, talk about technology in a way that’s pertinent to what’s happening today. For example, I used to have to rush home to catch my favourite show at 7pm, now we have PVRs, so I don’t need to do that. That’s IT, and it’s part of our lives.”
“People don’t realise there are a lot of fun and exciting parts of technology today,” George notes, “IT is not all programming or so-called soft skills like HR or marketing. It’s always changing and you need to keep learning to keep up. Things that we talk about today like Big Data and Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things are fun, and exciting and part of our daily lives. I have my own personal Internet of Things – I wear an Apple Watch that tracks my steps, and monitors calories burnt, that’s all IT, and it’s very relevant to our day to day lives.”
Breaking barriers and continually excelling requires ongoing personal and professional development. Mentoring and coaching, they both agree, are critical.
“Mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal thing,” explains Msimanga. “I believe in coaching up, down and across. Sometimes it’s just a case of realising when someone needs a hug, or a word of encouragement. I mentor a number of people, and love giving back, and I’ve been lucky to have some good, strong people over the course of my career to coach and mentor me in my professional and life skills.”
“I’ve had a mentor for the past 10 years,” adds George, “Mentoring and coaching are very close to my heart. A lot of women won’t get involved in Women’s Month or women in technology initiatives because they say we’re not different or lesser. But it’s not about that, it’s about pulling young women into tech careers and helping them to see the things they can’t necessarily see for themselves.”
And while IT has integrated itself into every aspect of our lives – from work to home to fitness, shopping, travel and everything else – many people don’t necessarily see the link between math and science and IT, George states. “It’s about exposure to the roles available to men and women in the tech sector, we need to see people in technology professions the same way we see doctors, or journalists or engineers in our day to day environments. We need to get out there and show people what they can do,” she concludes.