James Brown released his legendary song “It’s a Man’s World” all the way back in 1966 at the height of the Women’s Rights Movement which sought equal rights and opportunities for women. More than 50 years later, although considerable progress has been made in terms of the empowerment of women in general, large gender gaps still persist, notably in respect of the role of women in the workplace. Certain occupations in particular continue to be male-dominated spaces, like the IT industry which remains “A Man’s World”.
In South Africa, only 23% of tech jobs are held by women. This is according to Women in Tech ZA, a group that advocates for greater gender diversity in the ICT sector. Other studies reveal even more dismal figures; The Leaky Pipeline Report by Syson Kunda from the Ping Academy confirms that only 26.92% of leadership roles in ICT are held by women and even junior roles are mostly occupied by men. Most disappointing of all is that a mere 17% of ICT students are female. Attracting young women to the sector and encouraging IT-related studies are undeniable priorities in order to start bridging the gender gap in the industry.
Dikeledi Nkosi is one of a number of inspiring young women developing sought-after ICT skills while gaining practical work experience in Progression’s Web Design & Development Hub. She initially completed an IT Support learnership and is currently working towards her second IT qualification in the Systems Development stream. In addition to her learnership commitments, Dikeledi also runs her own small business, importing and selling clothes to clients across the country. Her IT learnerships have provided her with a distinct advantage and played an important role in the running of her business. Dikeledi confirms, “The knowledge and skills I continue to acquire on my learnership help me run my business better.”
Another learner who is acquiring valuable IT skills and experience at Progression is Zandile Nkosi, who has completed three IT qualifications over the last few years and was recently named as the top performer in her Systems Support NQF5 learnership group. Zandile enjoys the challenges of the IT field. “Technology is constantly changing and there is always something new to learn, which is very exciting!” she explains. Although Zandile failed Matric on her first attempt and had to rewrite the exam, the learnership system has provided her with the ideal channel to explore and develop her passion for IT and thrive in the process.
Female role models also play a crucial role in overcoming stereotypes and breaking through gender barriers. Yandisa Sokhanyile, who runs her own business which builds wireless networks and develops platforms to gather analytics, is an inspiring young female entrepreneur making huge strides in the ICT sector. Her work has earned her a host of impressive accolades, including being recognised as one of South Africa’s 50 most inspiring Women in STEM by the Netherlands embassy as well as becoming a finalist in the Standard Bank Top Women awards for 2019.
Yandisa’s view is that the gender gap in the IT industry stems from societal norms and beliefs and is further exacerbated by the lack of female representation, particularly in senior positions.
“Women do not see faces that look like them, which is discouraging and this becomes a cycle, with fewer and fewer role models to inspire them. It is also important for women to take up more leadership positions such as CEOs and to become entrepreneurs because that gives hope to young girls watching,” she says.
On her own personal journey as a businesswoman, Yandisa has tried not to be too gender-focussed. She explains,
“I leave that at the door when I walk into the boardroom. I never go in feeling like I am a woman amongst men. I remember my value proposition.”
She believes the innate attributes of intuition, curiosity and empathy that women possess can be extremely powerful in a business context and, in her case, have helped her use her gender to her advantage.
Yandisa’s advice to other women wanting to enter the IT field is to be prepared to learn and find their niche. She confirms,
“We are in the fourth industrial revolution where technology cuts across every industry and the opportunities are endless.”
There are a number of free online courses which she encourages women to explore in order to upskill themselves. She concludes,
“The more women there are in the tech industry, the easier it will be to open doors or elongate the table for other women too. There is no better time for women to lead the IT revolution than the present. The future is female!”