THE 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF), themed “Creating a shared future in a fractured world”, placed gender equality firmly on the global agenda for this year.

This followed findings produced by the 2017 WEF Annual Global Gender Gap Report, which estimated that global gender parity may now be more than 170 years away.

From a local perspective, South Africa was seen to make good progress towards gender parity. Of the 144 countries indexed in the report, South Africa ranked 19, with the overall gender gap between men and women standing at 24.4%.

The report ranked South Africa fifth on the group of 20 countries with the highest progress towards gender parity behind France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada respectively.

And while South Africa’s progress in the sub-category of Economic Participation and Opportunity increased from 55% in 2006 to 65% in 2017, it still ranked 89th globally in this regard.

The findings show that South Africa is making strides towards economic gender equality, albeit at a snail’s pace.

The opportunities for women in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector will not only benefit of the overall gender equality mission, but will also benefit the ICT sector as a whole.

PwC economists estimate that if the gender gap in both representation and pay gap were to close by 10%, South Africa could achieve an additional 3.2% in GDP growth, and a 6.5% reduction in the number of unemployed job seekers.

Although strides have been made to advance women in tech, more needs to be done.

The ICT industry is still male-dominated, but this is not due to a barrier to entry. In South Africa, the proportion of women to men who graduate with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees is out of kilter. Women are underrepresented in maths and statistics (4:5), ICT and technology (2:5), as well as engineering, manufacturing and construction (3:10), according to WEF statistics. As a result, there is a significantly smaller pool of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent, limiting the potential of South Africa’s overall technology sector. The tech industry boasts many exceptional female leaders. Brenda Niehaus, for instance, was Group CIO of Standard Bank for many years before retiring last year. Amanda Dambuza, the CEO of Uyandiswa, a black-owned company providing project management and business analytics consultancy services, is another example. What an inspirational, down-to-earth and dynamic woman! There are many examples of women like this in the ICT sector, and not one of them is less deserving to be where they are than their male counterparts. It is therefore crucial to celebrate these female role models and draw attention around them, especially for girls at a young age. Initiatives in which women in ICT or other STEM-related careers speak to schoolchildren can be powerful in the formative years for both boys and girls.

As the PwC 16 Nudges for More #WomenInTech report says, cultivating an interest in STEM fields must start as early as possible – at school and in higher education, for example. From an early age, behavioural design can help through de-biasing classrooms, changing how children are taught, as well as through celebrating counter-stereotypical role models. The tide is turning, but there are still too many challenges facing women in today’s workforce, particularly in ICT. PwC found that women held 19% of tech-related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies, relative to men who held 81%. In leadership positions at these global tech giants, women made up 28%, with men accounting for 72%. Yes, there is the stereotypical, biased view (from some men and women), that men are more technically-minded, less emotional, more capable, etc than women are – and we aren’t going to change the view of these people. Women must continue to know their strengths and use them to get results.

Leanne Gordge is a strategic account executive at SAS.

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