New Initiative Highlights Women in Tech, addressing gender diversity issues for inclusive industry development

Posted on October 05, 2021

A new initiative from the Department of Information Science facilitates UP alumni and tech industry women connecting with undergraduate women in tech degrees at the university. Last week the inaugural lecture of Grace’s Girls (Women in tech) featured a moving presentation from Eleanor Harding, Senior Product Manager at Twitter on finding your passion and voice, and staying true to your values in a highly competitive international tech industry. Globally women are underrepresented in STEM fields, an issue that has been addressed by various international organizations over the past two decades. Widely recognized to be foundational to the promotion of women in tech is representation.

“You can’t be what you can’t see”- Anneke Jong

When young women see role models that they can relate to, they are more confident in aspiring to fill leadership and management roles in the tech industry, a transformation desperately needed. Eleanor graduated from the BIS Multimedia program in 2014 and has since acted as a User Experience Design Consultant for the Open Space Agency (OSA), a service designer for NASA, and a product designer for Twitter before taking up her position as Product Manager from 2018. She is passionate about gender equality in tech and was invited as a UP representative for ‘ICT: Girls who Dare to be There’. The self-confessed ‘space geek’ presented her talk to the Grace’s Girls (Women in tech) group focusing around identifying your ‘true north’, the focus and passion that you can bring to your career in tech as a woman if you identify your strengths and stay true to your values. The group’s co-founder, Annique Smith, speaks to the issue of gender equality in tech:

“The gender gap exists worldwide in many different sectors, but it is particularly pronounced in the tech industry. In 2018, 19% of tech related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies were held by women. In terms of leadership positions in these companies, only 28% were made up of women. According to the 2021 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report, gender gaps are more likely in fields that require disruptive technical skills such as full stack development, AI and cloud computing. And when we look at higher education we see the same pattern – in South Africa in 2018, 2 women graduated from ICT-related degrees for every 5 men.”

In presenting these monthly talks Annique and Laetitia Cassells hope to present to the UP students in tech degrees in the School of IT (and more broadly) role models that are representative of themselves – women who graduated from UP and South Africa and have gone on to have highly successful careers in tech. Laetitia describes the purpose of the group:

“We are eager to promote a tech industry in South Africa that includes gender diversity, and we believe the best way to do that is through education. This group and its speakers function primarily as a space of support and learning, as it is associated with the University of Pretoria. Tech programs targeted by these lectures have a high rate of drop outs for female students specifically, as well as lower enrolment rates for women to begin with. We host our amazing speakers to address their own IT career experience, issues of gender discrimination they have experienced and how they dealt with it, and the significance of promoting more women in their field. In doing so we hope to inspire students to persevere, and provide them with relatable, authentic role models.”

Annique continues: Improving the ratio of women to men in the tech industry is not just about fighting for equality, but also recognising that women bring different ways of thinking to a situation and that these perspectives can help to improve the way we think about and design technology for the future. If the demographic make-up of a company is homogenous then it makes their products vulnerable to bias”

The group namesake is Grace Hopper, who pioneered machine independent programming languages, and had a long and illustrious career in the educational, private and military sectors. Although her contributions are now being recognised, for much of her career Dr Hopper was a pioneer of gender diversity in many ways. Grace’s Girls (Women in tech) hopes to inspire a new generation of women to enter into tech industries in South Africa, by showing them the path that has already been forged for them by other women, like Grace and Eleanor. The speaker for October will be Andri Johnston, Cambridge University Press & Assessment Digital Sustainability Working Group leader, digital products manager and open access editor. For more information please follow Grace’s Girls UP (@gracesgirlsup) on Instagram, or email [email protected].

- Author Laetitia Cassells
Published by Anneke Nel

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