The Covid-19 pandemic, subsequent lockdown and social distancing have accelerated digital migration, but this comes at a time when the country is battling to ensure technology access for all.
In her Tri Talk delivered at the Trialogue Business in Society Virtual Conference 2020, Nadine Nagooroo, Executive Head Risk Regulatory Compliance at Vodacom, shared insights into how Covid-19 “has birthed a global acceleration across the digital landscape with new opportunities emerging as the world tries to find its new normal”.
Themed ‘Women in Tech’, the session set out to explore opportunities to address the tech skills shortage, and examine barriers to entry, especially for women. Nagooroo pointed out that poverty has left SMMEs such spaza shops, which are mainly owned by women, unable to ride the digital wave. She offered four key themes to in addressing the tech barriers that women face.
- Careers have no gender
As true as this might be, women remain underrepresented in the tech sector globally. According to a report by PWC, women currently hold only 19% of tech jobs in the top ten global tech companies. Further, the number of women qualifying with STEM degrees is approximately 23%, according to UNESCO. In this current age of digital progress, careers should not be determined by gender – and this is exacerbated in South Africa where skills are in short supply. It is imperative that there should be a strong focus on grooming girls to pursue careers in technology.
- Girls with dreams become women with vision
Tech training for everyone, especially young girls, should start at school, according to Nagooroo, with an emphasis on STEM subjects accompanied by design thinking and problem solving. The school curriculum is evolving to cater for this, and pressure must be applied to build solid tech competencies. Nagooroo also asserted that gender equality should be taught at home. Research shows that children start absorbing stereotypes from as early as three years of age, and it is imperative to build young girls’ confidence by exposing them to various career opportunities in a gender–agnostic manner.
- As women, it is important to be where the world is going
We have already seen lines between industries blurred, like finance and technology, with fintech the result – this will become more prevalent in the fourth industrial revolution. This means that women, skilled and educated in a variety of disciplines, can realistically set their sights on working in tech companies. Nagooroo moved from the legal to the tech field and said that women should aspire to being employed in the broader tech sector regardless of their underlying qualifications.
“Be where the world is going,” she urged delegates. “We have seen over the lockdown period that technology and digitisation is where the world is going. As women, we need to be at the forefront of these industries.”
* Actions speak louder than words, so good ideas must translate to real action
South African women face several challenges, including being under-represented at work and often being family breadwinners, which increases financial pressure. Although we should celebrate the gains we have made – for example, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence and the #metoo movement – we need initiatives to lead to real change. We need to see more women contributing to business as well as the tech industries.
“I am a firm believer that the awakening must lead to accommodation. Companies must change their attitude towards employing women generally in the tech sector,” Nagooroo said, adding that she is very fortunate to work for Vodacom, which has women-friendly recruitment policies.
“We have a programme called the Women In Waiting programme, which proactively creates a talent pool with a view to filing vacancies as and when they arise,” she said. “In my own division, I am very proud to say that the executive committee currently comprises 50% of female executives, compared to the industry norm of around 28%. Our own chief officer, Mariam Cassim, is a very successful, strong female role model who is passionate about women empowerment and drives to attain new levels of success.”
Nagooroo pointed to the company’s recent collaboration with Alipay, which develops a robust digital payment system that can be used by SMMEs and informal traders such as spaza shops to help digitise their businesses in a simple and low–cost manner. It also offers loans and business support to small businesses through its VodaLend product, which has helped to make woman–owned business The Bread Box Bakery a success.
In her closing remarks, Nagooroo challenged conference delegates to be catalysts for change. “Let’s be aware of our own unconscious biases. Let’s start having those difficult conversation in the boardroom on gender discrimination. Together we can make a difference and change the future landscape of technology for the better, but it starts with each of us. Let’s change the narrative for generations to come. Let’s create a future that we can all be proud of.”
Image: Nadine Nagooroo, Gugulethu Mfuphi
Written by Mahlo Maku
Photo taken by Janelle Strydom