By Kim Furman
There are barriers in society that need breaking. The barriers blocking youth from entering the working world, made worse by the further increasing unemployment caused by COVID-19, and the barriers preventing women from entering the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) space are two examples.
The STEM arena is vastly underpopulated by women. According to UNESCO Statistics, females make up only 23% of STEM talent globally and this holds true for South Africa where there is a shortfall of females practising in this space. Demand for talent with technical skills has grown exponentially, however, companies are struggling to find qualified workers with programming skills, especially female talent.
But how do we begin to break these barriers?
Unemployment and gender inequality are wicked problems with no simple solutions but “a river cuts through rock, not because of its power but because of its persistence”. Synthesis, a highly specialised software and systems developer, and GirlCode, a registered NPO, decided that the way to persistently hit these barriers is through education. Young girls need to be aware of the options that are available to them. In celebration of Youth Month and in a drive to expose young women to technology opportunities, Synthesis and GirlCode partnered through Breaking the Code: Women in Data Symposium.
“I would love to walk into a room and ask a little girl what they want to be and they say ‘a machine learning engineer because it is cool’ because then that means I’ve done my job”, says Elmarie Grant, Head of Synthesis Academy. But a machine learning engineer wasn’t a common concept when most young women today were little girls. Lawyers, teachers, doctors etc. were. There can be no demand without awareness. We need to educate women today on the world of possibilities they can enjoy if they have a solutionist and creative mindset.
The Symposium was an opportunity for five women in the technology sector to share their passion for this space and inspire other women to enter it and break any misconceptions. This was an opportunity for women to receive practical guidance of how to get into this sector and ask their questions.
“Society as a whole should ensure all that females are given equal opportunities to grow in this new age workforce and we must understand that all of us have a stake in this mission”, says Tinyiko Simbine, GirlCode Co-founder and CFO.
Breaking the barriers leads to benefits
Diverse teams where there is mutual respect leads to more innovative ideas and greater creativity due to the mix of unique perspectives. Innovation and creativity are golden skills in a time like this, where COVID-19 is disrupting the world. Some of the greatest innovations come from times of disruption such as Uber after the 2008 recession. Which company would not want to increase its creative capital? However, research has found that companies, industries, and countries only gain these benefits when they consider gender diversity as important. But if young women themselves do not view the STEM arena as a viable option, then how can the gender gap decrease? They need the exposure and the breaking down of notions that STEM is a “male” sphere.
The symposium may have only been a drop in terms of exposing women to technology opportunities, but many drops make a river.