I’ve always known the tech-industry for being male-dominated, but it was surprising to find out that only 25% of Computer Science jobs are occupied by women, and that the turnover rate is high with 24% of those women quitting to go for non-technical jobs. These shocking statistics made me question why. I even found myself reflecting on my personal journey with technology.
At the age of 15, I was one of the grade 10 learners who was selected to participate at a Wits University Maths and Science programme, called the Targeting Talent Programme. Coming from a disadvantaged background, it was my first time being given an opportunity to type something on a computer. It was a life-changing experience that I wished could have been afforded to everyone I knew. The programme introduced us to the fundamental basics of programming using Scratch. Not knowing how to use a computer, let alone how to switch one on meant I was always five steps behind everyone else. As a result, I hated Computer Science classes simply because falling behind made me feel ‘stupid’ even though I was one of the few learners selected out of thousands for being academically ‘talented’. Because of this experience, I decided that a technical degree was not something for me to consider in the future.
I believe that in most cases, people from disadvantaged communities are generally reluctant to study technical degrees for the fear of ‘not knowing’. In addition to the lack of knowledge, there is also the challenge of minimal access to resources. How do you convince an 18 year old Mapitsi to take on a technical degree at university, when shares a textbook with five other leaners in a cramped class of a 100 people with no access to computers, let alone the simple privilege of space to breathe and think? Beyond that, how do you convince her to be confident enough to complete her first year, when she doesn’t even know how to use a mouse and the rest of the class is ahead of her?
This lead me to question, how do we prepare young girls for the tech-industry? How do we build their confidence to stay on once they’ve joined the field? How do we begin changing their failure mindset? How do we create and improve access to projects such as Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, Africa Code week, and Explore Data Science Academy? It is only by addressing these challenges that we will start to see an improvement on the declining 25% of women in Tech.
At the Women in Data Science Conference, something else that sparked my interest was the discussion around the 4th industrial revolution. According to StatsSA, internet penetration (a key feature of the 3rd Industrial Revolution) is at 60% in South Africa, and contrary to popular belief this means that almost 24 million of our people still don’t have access to the internet. With that, how do we tell people without access to the internet that if they don’t flow with the digital wave they will fall behind?
Attending the conference was an eye opening and awakening experience. Learning about data science in detail was the wakeup call I needed, even more so because I met phenomenal women in tech like Naomi Molefe who is the Chairperson of Women in Big Data. She is a young, black female from a psychology and HR background. Heading an organisation of that nature is not only inspirational but speaks to the point of beating the odds and staying relevant in an ever changing society.
About the Author:
Mankwe Buela is a Marketing Graduate, currently serving as a volunteer Fundraising Manager and Programme Coordinator at Cosmo Youth Empowerment. Beula is also the Events Manager at QWB+A.
Thank you for reading,