By Celeste Gibbens, Lenovo’s Marketing Director for MEA
Less than a quarter of all technology jobs in South Africa are held by women. According to Women In Tech ZA, an initiative which exists to help address the gender gap in the information and communication (ICT) sector through advocacy and raising awareness, only 23 percent of tech jobs are occupied by women, holding 56 000 out of 236 000 ICT roles in the country. The need to improve diversity in this sector is very clearly apparent.
Celeste Gibbens, Lenovo’s Marketing Director for MEA, explains: “It is critically important for the technology sector in South Africa to take steps to close the gender gap. This is a multi-layered problem, and requires multiple levels of solutions, from the education sector through to both government and the business sector. Fortunately, there is goodwill in existence – we need to harness it and work together to attain the best results we can, as quickly as possible.”
She notes that the problem is a global one – South Africa is not alone. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the global average for women pursuing careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines is 30 percent, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is lower still, at just 28 percent.
“Even in the UK, there are low numbers of women in the tech space,” she adds. “For example, a 2017 PwC study in the UK among over 2,000 tertiary and university students showed that the gender gap in technology starts at school level, and carries on through every stage of girls’ and women’s lives.
“Only 27 percent of female students surveyed said they would consider a career in technology, compared to 61 percent of males, and only three percent said it was their first choice. When we consider that these statistics are from the UK as a developed country, this should raise alarm bells, in turn, for less developed countries.”
Leading the way
Part of the solution, says Gibbens, lies in having technology companies themselves taking steps to address the gender gap. She clarifies: “Lenovo’s global workforce is made up of 36 percent women – well above the global average. At the same time, we strive to improve this figure even further.
“According to the aforementioned PwC report’s key findings, women aren’t considering technology careers, as they aren’t given enough information on what working in the sector involves, and because no one is putting it forward as an accessible and lucrative career option for them. One of Lenovo’s initiatives works to address this problem in a practical manner: Lenovo’s Women in Lenovo Leadership (WILL) employee resource group (ERG) is the company’s largest ERG, operating at a global level to help women to develop their talents, and provide a supportive space for women in technology.”
Ensuring visible female leadership at executive level
Lenovo has also taken steps to address the need for female representation at the C-suite level. Gibbens explains, “While the company acknowledges the importance of empowering women in our workforce and communities, Lenovo has also set next generation goals to increase its representation of female executives.
“After meeting its 2020 goals for 20 percent female executive representation, the company’s new target is now set at 27 percent, by FY 2025/26. In this way, Lenovo aims to address another concern raised by the PWC report, namely that women considering their career options do not see visible female leadership in the tech space.”
Helping to meet tech challenges at grassroots level
The South African government is aware that it must work with multiple parties, including the private sector, youth organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and non-profit organisations (NPOs) in order to enable the country’s youth with digital skills. This was according to the Minister of Communication and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, in 2021, who explained: “The speed of change in science and technology demands an equal speed in acquiring the skills that the industry demands.
“The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has developed the National Digital and Future Skills strategy, whose objective is to establish an education and skills development ecosystem that provides all South Africans with the required skills to create and participate in the digital economy. The department is collaborating with both the public and private sectors, with the intent to bridge the digital divide.
Commenting on the need to work with the government, Gibbens notes: “Latin America – another developing region – hosts some of the fastest growing technology hubs in the world, and the growth of startup communities across Latin America has increased demand for tech talent. To this end, a non-profit organisation named Laboratoria was launched in Lima, Peru in 2014 with the mission of not just strengthening the local tech pipeline but ensuring its diversity.
“Lenovo is a proud supporter of Laboratoria, and our investment there has helped enhance the female experience, both professionally and socially. As a company, we are more than willing and able to invest in communities in different ways, with the goal of empowering women in tech – anywhere, and at any level required.”
“We are additionally very proud that Lenovo has been recently recognised on the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index for its efforts to improve gender equity in the workplace. We look forward to continuing to play a role in South Africa, supporting government initiatives and the educational sector in our own way, whenever and wherever possible,” she concludes.