[Column] Reem Asaad: The changing face of technology in Africa and the Middle East, how efforts at improving gender equality are making a difference
21-09-2020 08:57:00 | by: Pie Kamau | hits: 5423 | Tags:

Among the world’s top 10 global tech giants, women hold just 19% of tech-related jobs. In South Africa this figure amounts to 23%, according to Women in Tech ZA, and is in part the result of an under-representation of women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. This, in turn, has its roots in earlier levels of education that often fail to present STEM as a viable course of study and career choice for girls and young women.

Yet, the face of the technology sector is changing. Important steps are being put in place to ensure that school girls, young women selecting their fields of study, new graduates, and women already working in the tech space are aware of the opportunities available to them – and are supported along the way. These measures are helping to create more gender diverse workforces, which are contributing to more successful and sustainable businesses.

Working with the youth

When it comes to dismantling the structures that create barriers of entry for woman, working with the youth is critical. Children, and especially girls, who are encouraged to pursue interests in maths and science, and who are given the opportunity to code and programme, are more likely to consider these areas as their academic and professional lives progress.

Since 1997, the Cisco Networking Academy has helped to transform the lives of learners, educators and communities by making tech education and career opportunities readily available. Today, the Academy works with almost 11 million learners in 180 countries, 1 million of whom are in Africa and the Middle East. In the Middle East, 29 % of graduating students are women.

Ensuring women inspire women

In order to see themselves in tech-related positions, as well as positions of leadership, women want to have female role models. Learning about the experiences of other women first-hand can help to inspire and empower those who are yet to believe that a career in STEM is possible.

Companies like Cisco are important in this regard, with a significant number of executives in the Leadership team being made up of women. Demonstrating that women are not only working in the tech sector, they are leading it.

At Cisco we believe that mentorship is key, this is why we host Girls Power Tech annually, a global mentoring initiative that encourages girls between the ages of 13 and 18 to consider STEM education and career paths and connects them to Cisco mentors. These mentors are women and men who actively advocate for women to pursue their tech-related interests and passions professionally. In 2019, more than 115 Cisco sites participated in Girls Power Tech.

Keeping gender equality top of mind

While massive advances have been made to improve gender equality in the workplace, much remains to be done. Conversations need to continually evolve – how to deal with the pressures placed on working women amid Covid-19 is just one example – and concrete action needs to be taken continuously.

Events such as Cisco’s annual Women of Impact Conference, and its recently launched By the Numbers Ladies Tech Engineers Club in South Africa, help to ensure that the role of women is always top of mind. They provide scope for issues to be constantly re-evaluated and for better, more relevant steps to be taken to counter the obstacles that prevent women in tech from advancing.

Yes, the face of technology is changing. But it is only changing because we – as a business and as an industry – are taking responsibility for changing it. Real progress is only possible if gender equality remains an abiding priority for all.

The importance of Family and Sports for women in our STEM journey

When wishing to embark on a STEM journey as a young woman, nothing is more important than a strong support structure from your loved ones. Receiving the right motivation and empowerment from one’s family ignites a vital sense of purpose within a young lady. By instilling these practices at a young age, we are encouraging women and girls to explore their talents and expertise freely with no form of societal discrimination.

Whilst a good family support system sets the foundations to a young lady’s dreams, sport activities motivate women to fight for them. Sport is not only physically beneficial for an individual, but is also mentally beneficial as it ignites a can-do’ attitude through healthy competition. Furthermore, sports showcase the importance of teamwork – both on and off the field. Cultivating these traits within young women prepares them for their future working environments as well as trains their innovative minds to be resilient as the world changes around them.

An all-inclusive Corporate Culture

When wishing to promote a diverse and inclusive an optimal corporate culture for ladies of all kinds, it is vital to not only attract female talent, but to also retain this female talent through corporate programs that promote a healthy work and life balance. Programmes such as Cisco’s DARE and JUMP strive to develop the leaders of tomorrow that are armed with skills, talents and behaviours needed to excel in their role(s) in a dynamic technology environment. This programme encourages these future leaders to embrace their skills in their own unique manner as they move up the corporate ladder.

Through these programmes Women across the world are encouraged to embrace their skills in their own unique manner as they move up the corporate ladder they inspire others. It is therefore, about time that the world catches up.

Reem Asaad, Vice President for Middle East and Africa at Cisco