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During Women’s Month, South Africans celebrate women along with the enormous contributions that they have made towards society. Accordingly, it is vital that we continue to empower and embrace such women beyond August. The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) industry is still predominantly male-led, but there are numerous powerful and educated women who have and continue to pave the way in the fourth industrial revolution.

One such woman is Xoliswa Mahlangu, who is the Technology Curriculum Developer and Coordinator at Future Nation Schools Lyndhurst. We recently interviewed her on the topic of STEM.

What can parents do in order to promote positive attitudes toward STEM with their daughters?

Parents should have the same expectations of their girl child as compared to their boy child. They should allow their daughters to explore and get dirty, they should be allowed to experiment and not be told that they are not being girly. Mothers should have a positive attitude towards STEM, and the daughters need to see their mom changing a light bulb, or fixing an appliance, helping with maths homework and not always calling a male ‘superhero’ to ‘save’ them. They need to see female role models, who are not afraid of STEM/TECH in their everyday lives. Along with the dolls and the kitchen sets, buy the Lego, robots, puzzles, building models and trucks – all these toys that nature a STEM mindset for your daughters.

What do you think about the way in which the dialogue about the need for more women in STEM fields has been shaped? Do you feel there is anything missing from this discussion?

I feel we have been crying about issues too much and not making the profession more attractive, we are unknowingly discouraging little girls from aspiring to the career, because we are always highlighting the challenges and not talking as much about the rewards and the fulfilment they can get from the careers. There are a lot of females in STEM and we are not shinning a positive spotlight on them, and we are not celebrating them as much as we should. We have a lot of Women in ‘something’ forums where we do not include the men that work in the industry and ultimately make decisions that we have to live with. We should be including all the stakeholders in the conversations.

Who are the women in the STEM arena that inspire you and why?

Nomso Kana – She is a really cool nuclear scientist, who is championing the female agenda on different platforms. She runs Taungana, which is an organisation that exposes girls to STEM careers, while they are still in high school.

Dr Tiisetso Lephoto – She not only is a young amazing academic, but she is an accomplished entrepreneur, who is always trying out new things and she has a great love for people.

Ruddy Riba – She has managed to dispel many myths about young black women in tech and additionally, she is an amazing developer who has grown in leaps and bounds in her career within a very short space of time. Ruddy also has a passion for women in tech and runs PinkIT, doing a lot of work with young girls in high school and young ladies that are starting in their IT Careers.

Hlulani Baloyi – She is one of the co-ordinators of the BLACK GIRLS CODE Jozi edition. She was part of a very powerful campaign, when there were still a few black female developers and I am sure she has encouraged a number of black girls from rural villages to consider tech as career.

All my role models are young, vibrant black women that are excelling in the tech space, they have a heart for people especially young girls and they go out of their way to give back to the community they symbolize tech with heart.

What are some stereotypes about women in STEM?

Women who are interested in tech/STEM are the butch nerdy independent type.
Women are not interested in technical roles.
Women are not focused and they are not gunning for the top roles.
Women are just focused on building homes and they won’t be willing to put in the super long hours required to succeed in tech.

How would you advise a young woman who is about to graduate on choosing her career?

Choose a career that resonates with your heart, do not be intimidated by what society says. There are no man jobs or roles. You can do whatever you put your mind to. Be confident in yourself, you don’t have to be perfect to start. Just start and hone your skills as you go along. There is nothing that you can figure out with the internet and the right contacts. Communicate with other people, don’t shy away from talking about what you do. There is always more to learn, be a lifelong learner.

How should young professionals go about continuing to develop their skills and knowledge to keep these relevant, particularly for 4IR?

Keep up with the news and try to learn as much as possible. We live in a time where there is a lot of free online course, enrol in them and acquire new skills. There are a number of technology meetups, go to them, meet new people and learn from them.