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

71a2f-1bj-r7sbhj4xcbukea-eaqw


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

The sad realization that your country is lacking the data that is needed for it to progress.

DSC_2498.jpg

While writing a pitch for donors to show them why sponsoring our tech communities is the best investment they can make, I discovered that South Africa has NO data on females* in the tech industry. Be it women working for tech companies or female tech entrepreneurs.

This leaves me with a HUGE hurdle which I am happy to tackle, but this cannot be done alone!

Basically it is hard for our Women in Tech groups to progress without numbers, as we have no idea what it is that we are trying to overcome. Sure we can continue to have female in tech events, workshops, etc, but unless we are measuring how many new women are entering into tech or creating their own tech company thanks to us, our work ends up being mundane and pointless.

When you read/listen to this amazing these articles/podcasts:

They cover things like:

“Our research findings show that on the lower rungs of corporate career ladders, fully 41% of highly qualified scientists, engineers, and technologists are women. But the dropout rates are huge: Over time 52% of these talented women quit their jobs. Most strikingly, this female exodus is not a steady trickle. Rather, there seems to be a key moment in women’s lives — in their mid to late thirties — when most head for the door.”

“Just 8.3 percent of venture capital-funded U.S. tech startups founded in 2014 were led by women CEOs, according to PitchBook.”

“In middle school, 74 percent of girls express interest in STEM subjects, but when choosing a college major, just 0.4 percent of high school girls select computer science, according to Girls Who Code.”

“We need to change the perception of science and math as masculine fields by providing girls with female role models, and giving them hands-on experience with all different kinds of technology.”

“The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020 there will be” “1.4 million jobs will open in computer science by 2020, yet we’ll have enough qualified graduates to fill just 29 percent of them — and less than 3 percent will be filled by women.”

Now picture that you are getting stats for South Africa when you read/listen to these articles/podcasts. We have very similar issues to the U.S., but none of our own stats to fill in for the issues covered. When we (South Africa’s referring to females in tech/female entrepreneurs) have to use information to back up our points, we have to pull data from overseas articles/journals which is WRONG! Although we face similar issues, we are a very different country, with multiple cultures, multiple different issues and let’s not forget that we also have a huge class and race gap that needs to be tackled along side this.

So what’s next…

We need to collect the local data and from there to devise a way to change and improve things. We already have create initiatives like: WomEng, Code4CT, GirlHype, codeX to name a few, that are educating females in STEM, all of which we try very work closely with.

We (KATO’s tech communities) aim to collect this data and from there guide and encourage females to become tech entrepreneurs, educate females in tech that are already working but want to change focus, connect employers to employees and run mentorship programs.

Stay tuned, and let’s hope that we get the ball rolling sooner rather than later.

*female/women in this article refers to anyone that considers themselves a female.

5093.png

Seeking Sponsorship for our South African based Tech Communities

1-8XT0XWxzp7icQDofhBLbPA.jpeg

Over the past five years, I have driven several successful tech communities and events, all of which have reached a stage of growth that requires more than just myself and a part-time committee to run them. For more, view these pictures, videos and events.

Each of these initiatives have succeeded in fulfilling numerous exciting achievements. One such achievement is the sharing of tech knowledge and skills with as many people as possible while also bridging the gender and class gap — not only in Cape Town, but also internationally.

In order to see continuous growth and have an even larger impact on the world around us, we need to expand.

Our vision includes setting up a dedicated office and hiring a full-time team of staff who will execute on the following:

  • Mentoring programmes
  • Tech courses and events
  • Hackathons to solve real world problems
  • A space that has an in-house support system for the tech community and for those interested in entering the tech industry
  • The perfect place to go to expand your tech skills and network
  • A safe place to get advice, network, grow your start-up, expand your tech skills and learn product development skills.
  • A connection platform for the public, educators, investors, employees and employers
  • The go-to place for employers to find their perfect employee

What the initiatives are:

Although each initiative varies our over all aims are:

  • To encourage gender equality and diversity in tech
  • To inspire and guide the community in developing new technology products or startups that solve local and global problems
  • To educate the public in hardware and new tech
  • To have the best support and mentoring system for anyone who is in or interested in the tech sector

And so much more.

Please contact me (robyn@kato.global) if you are interested, if you know anyone who would be, or if you would just like to know more.

In the meantime, here is a teaser video from one of our past events .

Thank you,

Robyn