Are women participating to their full potential in the local tech sector? No, why we can’t be a 100% certain…

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This month has been particularly busy for me. It was International Women’s Day on Thursday 8 March, so over and above my normal day of work I was busy letting South Africa know what is happening in the local tech industry in terms of women participation and how everyone can play their part to bridge the gender gap in this sector.

I was lucky enough to voice my opinion throughout the day on five radio shows and to have four articles published online about the steps we need to take to make a change. (Features added at the bottom)

Women in Tech in South Africa

Tech in South Africa is on the rise as the country increasingly welcomes the adoption of new and emerging technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain. But, during this time of industry growth, men continue to take centre stage as woman remain underrepresented in the field.

The solution for inclusivity in the local tech sector lies in encouraging and supporting women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Young women embarking in STEM often don’t have their family’s support as a result. This means they need to turn to their fellow students for support, who are often mainly males and also struggle to understand why a woman is studying a STEM subject. This lack of support has proven to limit women participation.

The 2017 Women in Technology global survey conducted by ISACA which revealed that a lack of female mentors (48%), a lacked female role models in the field (42%) and limited networking opportunities (27%) were some of the top barriers experienced by women in technology.

We have witnessed firsthand how these barriers have impacted women contribution to our local tech communities.

In 2012 and 2015 respectively, we started two tech communities: Arduino Cape Town, aimed at those who design and create in the world of electronics, and the Modern Alchemists for South Africa’s Maker community, those into art, coding, gaming, electronics, music or any form of making and incorporating tech into their creations. The meet ups offer a chance to interact with likeminded people, skill swap, ask for advice, and build relationships. But we quickly realised that these groups were almost solely attended by men and those women who did attend felt isolated given it was a male-dominated community.

It is for this reason that, in April 2016, I established Women in Tech Cape Town with the aim to empower gender diversity in the tech sector. But, what makes this community unique is that it encourages men and women from all walks of life to be part of this group. We are strong believers that the greater the diversity, the better the solution. The more we try to understand and accept each other, the sooner we will start supporting each other and working together to bridge the gap.

The success of this model is evident, we now have over 1 000 women in this group and it is growing. We’ve also noticed that the number of women has now also increased in the more male orientated groups. This proves how creating supportive networks — those that offer mentorship, support and encouragement — can be powerful motivators to empower women to pursue their passion for tech and progress their career in tech.

If we are to bridge the gender gap in South African tech space, we need to understand that South Africa’s challenges are unique when compared to Europe and the US. Our struggles are broader. We need to start voicing these obstacles and work together to create solutions for the future we want to live in.

Data to Make a Difference

It is no secret that data is incredibly important to make any real impact or change. Data exposes where the real issues are and in turn, where the solutions need to be focused. This cycle of collecting and reviewing data needs to continue continuously in order to measure whether the solution is having the needed effect, or if adaptations need to be made.

Last May I posted a story on The realization that your country is lacking the data that is needed for it to progress. In summary, I wanted to see what impact the women in tech communities where having in bridging the gender diversity gap by tracking data, but to my horror, there is little to no South African data on females in STEM.

So I put the challenge on myself to collect this data and reached out to a group of women in the field and influencers for their help and advice. These women were amazing and helpful, and through hours of hard work of creating surveys, reviewing and adjusting them, and speaking to experts in STEM, journalists, data specialists — it became evident that to collect and formalise this data properly was more than an after-hours volunteering job. We needed to raise funding and hire a team of experts to achieve the results we were looking, and to be able to say, with confidence: “This is the percentage of women are in STEM in South Africa. This is how women in South Africa feel about STEM. And this is how we can change these numbers and people’s views of STEM.”

This year I am dedicating the majority of my spare time into finding a partner to fund this research project. Keep an eye here to see any updates on my progress.

How can you make a difference?

  • Join our Women in Tech groups. You can find your local group here.
  • You can create a Women in Tech chapter in your area. Get in touch with me: robyn@kato.global
  • Sponsor or partner with us, contact me for more details: robyn@kato.global
  • Join other tech communities in your area, you can see the ones I am connected to here

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