By Faryn Pearson, MasterStart Chief Innovation Officer
MasterStart Chief Innovation Officer Faryn Pearson talks to Baratang Miya, a technology guru who has been opening doors for women and girls to code for almost 20 years.
Baratang Miya has been empowering women and driving workforce diversity and inclusion of women and youth in the technology and entrepreneurship space since 2003. She is the founder of the Women In Tech Academy and Girlhype Coders Academy, which has reached more than 900 000 women and girls since 2003.
They say it takes a village to raise a child but it also takes a community to drive change. What role has the community played in GirlHype’s journey?
The foundation of Girlhype in 2003 was strengthened by the partnerships we had with the Cape Chamber Of Commerce, dtic’s Technology for Women In Business (TWIB), Western Cape Government, City of Cape Town, South African Women In Business (SAWEN), South African Women In Science and Engineering (SAWISE) and the Universities in Western Cape especially UCT, UWC, CPUT and University of Stellenbosch. I truly owe the first five years of Girlhype’s establishment to these organisations. The resources, mentorship and support they provided me as a leader and to the girls is what made the organisation what it is today.
Being part of the Silicon Cape community helped me build relationships with startups and corporates. With GirlHype, we want to mentor girls to get into the male-dominated technology field so it’s crucial that we help them, as a community, to get ahead and succeed once they enter the tech space. The key is to create a community with empathy, compassion, and understanding. We need diverse spaces where women are given the space to excel.
How can businesses cultivate a sense of community among the broader society they work in?
They need to incentivise their employees – especially female executives – to mentor people outside the company, and pay them for their time. GirlHype relies a lot on mentors – and most of the women are doing it for free, but it takes a lot of time and it is done after hours. If they had the time, even three hours a month for example, we could do so much more. We did this with Britehouse Mobility, they paid their mentors to volunteer their skills and time with the girls and it works very well.
Corporates also need to open doors at entry level programming employment opportunities. After training and mentoring we battle to place our girls for employment. NPOs have a constant battle for resources, so if they could fund us or donate computers and skills that would be a great way for them to give back to the community.
Another practical thing big businesses can do is for CEOs to give their time to mentor CEOs of nonprofits to help them grow into running a big company. Sometimes you are driven by passion and not experience – especially executives who come out of the startup space – they need that extra guidance.
How can the private sector support and grow excellent women leaders?
The private sector needs to support women’s career trajectories. There is this distinct lack of support because women’s career development is still predicated on a man’s trajectory. To be a specialist software developer, for example, your training and advancement happens in those child-raising years where men are surging ahead and work spaces and cultural environments are not designed for women’s growth.
I was lucky because my husband and I were equal in terms of raising our kids, but it’s not always the case. I realised the employment and education systems were not designed for me especially as a black woman. The school’s curriculum did not prepare me for higher education or employment even though I had the cognitive capacity for it. I don’t want other girls to go through what I did, finding myself having to choose between raising my children and giving them the best parenting versus choosing a career.
So I thought, let me focus on girls and encourage them to go into technology because research shows there are few women in tech, there is so much opportunity that women are not aware of, and girls’ choices of subjects need to be influenced when they are still young to meet the requirements for a career in tech. The lack of women in the sector, still, is due to social norms and pressures and it needs to change because it’s not that women don’t want to be in the boardroom.
What advice do you have for women and girls trying to change the gender status quo in their environments?
My advice is to be inclusive and make it a commitment – take it as a commitment to yourself to change what you can. For example, if you are in HR, commit to a figure of a number of women to employ in different technical roles, and be committed to achieving that. Make it a mission to find others to help educate and empower the people around you. Find allies and build a tribe of people you know are for women empowerment. Don’t make it an internal organisational war because it can make the environment uncomfortable for you. Commit to doing it, lobby others from different departments to help and support your goal, and you will win people over that way. Take it one step at a time – pay it forward – even if you mentor one woman, it’s enough to change the status quo. Remember that it’s not your battle to fight alone, the system can be very exhausting if you do it by yourself. Seminars, conferences and workshops in the tech space can be great places for you to find out what others are doing and learn from them.
MasterStart is a high growth edtech business, offering flexible and fully supported online learning for thousands of future leaders around the world. MasterStart works with industry leaders to develop highly relevant programmes and partners with leading business schools and universities so every student can achieve academically recognised certification. Amongst these partners are the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB-ED), Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and the Graduate School of Business, UCT (GSB). Learners receive unparalleled online learning that enables them to grow, develop and adapt their careers in a rapidly-changing world. With offices in Cape Town and London, MasterStart is on a mission to humanise online leadership learning through collaborative education programmes that equip participants to start life-long learning conversations.
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