DESPITE concerted efforts to narrow the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, major inequalities persist.
According to UNESCO, women account for a mere 28% of those pursuing STEM careers in Sub-Saharan Africa, below the global average of 30%.
On a positive note, South Africa is bucking the trend by producing more female ICT graduates. The country has the highest share of female graduates in Sub-Saharan African at 32%, and even more female ICT graduates, at 38%, according to a recent report. Supporting this positive trajectory are statistics from HyperionDev, South Africa’s leading tech education provider, which recorded a 60% increase in female students since the beginning of 2021.
HyperionDev CEO Riaz Moola says that although the number of women in tech is improving in South Africa, there is still much to be done to minimise barriers to entry, inspire girls to take STEM subjects and help young women take advantage of the opportunities that the tech industry offers them.
Giving women a competitive edge is vital, as they were the hardest hit during the first COVID-19 hard lockdown last year. Out of the 2,8 million jobs lost, two-thirds were women, according to the National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM). In the latest survey released earlier this year, although many have recovered their jobs, re-employment rates for men were greater than those for women.
“Considering that the job landscape is constantly evolving in line with the digital economy, it is essential for girls and women to ensure they are educated and upskilled to ensure their jobs are future-proofed, especially in the face of disruptions such as COVID-19,” comments Moola.
Female representation is critical
Despite the progress made towards gender parity, women still remain critically underrepresented in most STEM fields, both in tertiary education institutions and the workforce.
“It becomes apparent in more informal social settings that there are still fundamentally prejudiced nuances embedded in conversations around women in tech. The underrepresentation of women then equates to a lack of female ICT role models to inspire girls at an age where parental control, peer pressure and self-esteem can heavily influence their career decisions,” says Marianne de Vos, Lead Digital Designer at HyperionDev.
Others concur that gender representation makes a big difference. Onalerona Mosimege, Software Engineer at HyperionDev, recalls how large and diverse her first-year computer science class was at university. But it didn’t stay that way for long. “By my final exam in third year, there were only four girls left,” she says. “A lot of my female friends left computer science mostly because they felt as if they were struggling alone.”
Breaking down barriers to shatter glass ceilings
“While the issues women face in joining the tech industry are numerous and powerful, they’re not impossible to overcome,” says Moola. As such, he believes there are a number of strategies that schools, businesses, and parents can take to support girls and women as they pursue their passion and interest in technology. These include improving female representation in companies, celebrating female role models in tech, such as South African powerhouse Aisha Pandor, co-founder of Sweep South and American Whitney Wolfe Herd, 31-year-old founder of the global dating app Bumble, who was named the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire on Forbes’s Billionaires List 2021. Subsequently, it is crucial to ensure that the tech industry listens to women’s challenges and addresses gender inequality.
Tech education is the perfect starting point
“Accessible tech education is the future of social upliftment and mobility,” asserts Moola. “As coding is an essential language for many 21st century jobs, it is the perfect starting point for women and girls to grow their careers in tech.
“Our coding boot camps give young women a fighting chance to become confident, job-ready developers in mere months rather than years. We have hundreds of proven success stories of students who became professional developers and engineers shortly after graduating,” he says. “Our focus on practical work skills and the human touch makes all the difference in helping young women achieve their tech dream and excel in their new career,” Moola concludes.