Costa Koutakis
Costa Koutakis Executive Head: Enterprise

Throughout the world, women have made significant contributions to the IT industry and more executives are realising that the creativity and talents of women in IT are an invaluable resource in business.

business woman working

For others, however, the advancements of women in IT has been met with tokenism. Gender equality in any industry should not be a checkbox agenda, and we should stop putting obstacles in the way of women achieving greatness. We need to provide positive reinforcement and a solid environment for women in IT to flourish and ensure that undermining this principle would result in a competitive disadvantage for businesses.

What’s holding women back?

According to the McKinsey’s global survey on gender diversity, attitudes and company culture play a significant role in setting women back. The findings also suggest that it’s women who hold themselves back because they lack the confidence to reach the top. This stems from the stereotype that women in top positions are deemed unusual. It’s all about your mindset.

Lebogang Madise, a young IT prodigy in the field of software development says, “I don’t think people care much as to whether you’re a woman or not, it’s more about your attitude; having a teachable spirit shifts you from having to “prove” yourself to being in a position where you can learn from people (male or female), who are experts in the field and thus building your character and skills level set.” The best way to fight back against the stereotypes is to present women with role models in the field.

Nina Simosko, President and CEO of NTT Innovation Institute Inc. (NTT i3), was in South Africa recently attending and giving a presentation on innovation at our CloudWAN launch. Nina is a great example who serves as a catalyst for change and a role model for future generations. Last year the Silicon Valley Business Journal named her one of the world’s most influential women. “The world has changed for women in the workplace, but we’re not where we need to be yet. I look forward to continuing to mentor the next generation of women in tech here in the Valley and beyond,” she said. She previously led the execution of Nike Technology strategy, planning and operations worldwide and before that she was the Senior Vice President of SAP’s Global Premier Customer Network (PCN).

People stick to habits forged over the years, therefore to break the mindset that only men belong in IT require companies to continually funnel support mechanisms to counter the balance and reinforce the diversity pitch. In addition, companies need to give women access to technical know-how by funding resources into training. Even better, women need to start learning as soon as possible so they can better position themselves. Women should expose themselves to programs such as the Code for Cape Town (Code4CT). The programme teaches young girls to use basic web building skills and exposes them to opportunities in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector.

What a scarcity of women in IT will do to the industry

There is a positive correlation between women in top positions and demonstrating a higher operating margin. The studies speak for themselves and, according to Catalyst, companies with more women return 34% greater returns to shareholders.

Despite the slow uptake, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The leading sector for women employment resides within the technology industry. This industry, according to the Women in The Boardroom report, includes a female employment margin of 20%, which is above other industries such as financial services (16%), energy and resources (17%), consumer business (18%) and manufacturing (19%).

Things have changed for South African women. According to Faith Khanyile, featured in the Financial Mail women’s magazine, “there has been a shift in the mindset of many business leaders as they realise the benefits of inclusive leadership. If corporate South Africa continues to be courageous, we’ll benefit through economic growth and become leaders in the advancement of women on the continent.” As South Africa’s challenges continue to grow, we’ll need innovative teams that stem from diversity to find new ways of addressing our problems and stimulate economic growth. Organisations that are poised for success are those that allow women to be an invaluable asset to the business. Change is slow (even in IT), and we therefore need to ensure more women are getting involved. One woman in the boardroom isn’t enough.

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