Human Resources

South Africa: The Tech Women Imbalance

Recently, the gender divide in IT has made the news headlines all over the world as a succession of high profile companies have released their inequality stats. Interestingly however, whilst you might imagine this divide to be far more advanced in some countries than others, the stats from South Africa seem to be fairly consistent with elsewhere.

This said, the VP and director of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals, Moira de Roche describes stats on women in ICT in South Africa as “pretty scant.” However, she estimates that “to the best of her knowledge, women comprise 55% of the total South African workforce, but only 20% of the ICT workforce and it's a stark reality that fewer and fewer girls' schools teach IT.”

There are a number of initiatives in place across the country to rectify this. Women in IT, for example, is a bursary and mentorship programme that helps develop and grow women in the sector. This launched nine years ago and, according to the website, has grown to comprise of over 2000 members.

And over the last few months Denouvre de Beer has launched WITSA (Women in Information Technology South Africa) in Cape Town. She has been in IT for 17 years in both a commercial and academic capacity and, when we caught up with her over the phone, she told us of some of the difficulties she has experienced through her roles as a developer, architecture analyst and at an executive level.

“It is already difficult,” she said “but I think you’ve got to work harder to prove yourself.” She told us about an occasion in the year 2000 when she was working as a Microsoft architect and the client went over her head to her boss and requested a male instead. Her boss at the time called her into the room and asked what she wanted to do and she said: “I want to continue.”

The aim of WITSA is to place women in IT roles. Despite not having been running long, de Beer has already received a lot of interest from companies and female IT professionals alike. She also feels the situation is changing and that more female graduates are coming through the system than a decade ago. However, she believes this is partly because the South African government has been providing incentives for students to pursue degrees in this field.

Denouvre de Beer has been speaking to numerous individuals across Africa and this has led her to ask one core question: how am I going to change behaviour and perspective? She feels this is especially difficult as South African and pan-African society is so conservative.

“The clients are enthusiastic,” she says “but whether they’ve thought of a strategy is questionable.” And when it comes to experienced tech women to promote the cause, she has found many want to help, but they face the usual time constraints of getting out the next piece of software, earning a living and raising a family.

There is no easy answer to the gender imbalance in IT. This is a problem that exists everywhere in the world and research we conducted a couple of years back suggested there were a number of reasons for this. What do you think needs to be done to encourage more women into IT across Africa and beyond?  


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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