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By Sonwabise Sebata, (Acting) Chair for the Board of the South African Women in ICT Forum

Now in its 14th year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report states that only 21.4% of women sit on Boards in South Africa, and more specifically only 20% of women directors serve on Boards of JSE-listed companies in 2020. In addition, The Jack Hammer Executive Report Volume III shows that women occupy only 17% of top-executive levels across all sectors in South Africa. But what about the ICT sector specifically? Women occupy a mere 23% of the total job roles in South Africa’s ICT sector.

The figures are no better globally. Women currently hold only 19% of tech-related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies. Meaning the rest, a total of 81%, is occupied by men. In addition, men occupy 72% of leadership roles in the same top 10 global tech companies while women only occupy 28% of the leadership roles in those companies. It doesn’t come as a surprise however, a study by World Wide Web Founder Arthur Goldstuck, reveals that men are assumed to be the better leaders and this assumption is mostly made by other men.

So where to from here for women in ICT in South Africa?

It starts with our foundation, the education system. A PWC report shows that the proportion of females to males who graduate with STEM-related degrees is at an imbalance in South Africa but this is also a global gender problem. World Economic Forum statistics show that in maths and statistics studies there are only 4.5% female students. In engineering, manufacturing and construction there are only 3.10% female students, which in turn shrinks the number of women in STEM, posing further restrictions to our growth as women in the sector.

The answer however is more complex than just our education system. Behavioural design, counter-stereotyping societal norms, upskilling and reskilling, role modelling, de-biasing societal structures, and changing the narrative and images associated with toys to sports to design models to classrooms should all play a role. Even more so because closing the gender gap by just 10% in South Africa would have extremely positive spin-offs for our economy. Economists at PWC estimate that this would give the country a 3.2% GDP growth and a 6.5% reduction in unemployed job seekers, as well as contribute to poverty alleviation in the country.

It is encouraging to see more ICT companies with women leaders in South Africa; namely, Microsoft, Software AG, SAP, Naspers, Project Isizwe, and Siemens in addition to women founders of successful local ICT businesses and NGOs such as Soma-Solutions, Uhuru Spaces, Lindamahle, Imbokodo ICT Consulting, FemTech, Kids in ICT and Girl Code to name a few; but the call to action is far broader than that.

The South African Women in ICT Forum  was launched in 2014 as a platform for advocating for the increase of women in South Africa’s ICT sector through policy frameworks, programmes that contribute to career acceleration, training and capacity building. Since then, when the current Board took over in May 2019, the Forum’s mandate increased to include not only women but also youth and people living with disabilities and not only the ICT sector exclusively but also ICT-enabled sectors. This has enabled the Forum to reach a much wider portion of marginalized communities whose voices and needs were not represented in the sector. What has also been a turning point for the Forum, is working with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies as well as Industry bodies such as the Black IT Forum, ITA, US Chamber of Commerce, 30% Club amongst others but also business. We have been encouraged by companies such as Microsoft, Gijima, Cisco, Altron, Clearline Protection Systems, RaizCorp, MindShare, Broadband Infraco, Standard Bank, and Accenture to name a few, who have reached out to work with us on this front.

The World Economic Forum believes that it will take 100 years, 99.5 years to be exact, to bridge the gender gap. We shouldn’t expect drastic change in the sector in 2020, but on the bright side our collective efforts will be the force that creates real impact.