Women are the most untapped resource in technology, but they continue to be underrepresented in this area and at risk of being left behind together, so Ayumi Moore Aoki, Founder and CEO of an international organization Women in technologyaiming to bridge the gender gap in technology, and the digital agency Social BrainÂ®.
Aoki, a South African who now lives in France, gave the keynote address at the Trilog Business in Society Virtual Conference presented on June 23 under the topic of the day âICT for Gender Empowermentâ Vodacom. Aoki pointed out that five decades ago there were proportionally more women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions than there are today.
Products and services are developed by men for men, so women’s perspectives are often overlooked.
“We need to get more women into the tech sector if we want them to play an integral role in the ecosystem and empower the industry as a whole,” she said.
It is crucial that products and services are developed by men for men so that the perspective of women is often overlooked. âA good example is the fact that we have around 230 million pregnancies worldwide every year, but there are no seat belts for pregnant women. Car accidents are the leading cause of death in pregnant women. Even women who are not pregnant are 70% more likely than men to be injured in an accident because engineers designed seat belts to look like women were little men. Therefore, women need to be involved in decision making, design and innovation in every single industry, âsaid Aoki.
How ICT can support gender equality
She pointed out that the gender gap in technology prevents women from playing a full role in shaping the future of society. Women currently make up only 23% of STEM professionals work in South Africa, with only 17% in management positions – and the statistics for women of color are worse.
For Aoki, the digital acceleration fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic presents a historic opportunity to get more women involved in technology – and she urged companies to empower, educate, and retrain women to prepare them for the future of work. “This will allow them to work remotely, become financially independent, open their businesses and become part of the tech industry,” she said.
To fix the âleaky pipelineâ, girls need to be educated and cared for from an early age, and a safe, welcoming environment must be created for them that allows a smooth transition from the classroom to the boardroom. “Education is key, but the crucial age is between 12 and 14 when young women are most likely to drop out of STEM,” she said. âIt is important for companies to focus on this and to inform them about possible jobs and to give them access to mentoring and role models. Women who are cared for feel better supported and have the personal self-confidence to make their dreams come true. ”
Retraining women in the workplace is just as important as being able to climb the corporate ladder. However, there are significant barriers. “Currently, South African women in the STEM field earn 28% less than their male counterparts, which means that at the end of the month they have to work two and a half hours more a day to earn the same salary,” said Aoki. “It is absurd to have such wage differentials and discrimination in the workplace in 2021.”
In conclusion, she said that future-proof employment opportunities for women will help ensure sustainable communities around the world. âWhen you empower a woman, you empower an entire community and nation,â she said. “When women rise, we all rise.”
The second morning sessions of the three-morning conference explored how ICT can support gender empowerment, be it in combating gender-based violence through technological innovation or in helping women farmers access the market.
In their Tri Talk, a TED-style address, Sonwabise Mzinyathi, Senior Manager of Global Politics and Government Affairs for an international education and advocacy organization World citizens, drew attention to potential technical solutions to curb gender-based violence (GBV), such as GBV’s engagement platform, which is based on GovChat, an app that promotes civic engagement. “The zero-rating platform leverages the power of data and analytics to contain GBV while giving users access to support facilities,” said Mzinyathi. Behind the platform are the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, the Department of Social Development (DSD) and UNICEF.
In the panel discussion entitled “How ICT can support gender empowerment” Takalani Netshitenzhe, Director of Foreign Affairs at Vodacom, drew attention to the Gender-Based Violence Command Center set up by the Vodacom Foundation in collaboration with the DSD, which has also supported South Africans in need during the pandemic.
In the same panel discussion Baratang Miya, the founder of GirlHYPE, pointed out that it is futile for women to get into the tech field if they cannot secure permanent employment or funding for their businesses. In addition, African women are not encouraged to become content creators. “As Africans, we have been pushed to become tech consumers and when you are a tech consumer you make money for others,” she said. âAfrican women should be given appropriate incentives. There are so many platforms that take content from Africa and we don’t get anything in return. ”
Recruiting and retaining women in decision-making positions will go a long way in changing the current dynamic, which is still excluding a large percentage of women from STEM and technology industries. “It is important to inspire our girls – to instill their confidence, to build careers they would not normally consider,” Miya said.
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Selected image: Sonwabise Mzinyathi, Senior Manager, Global Policy and Government Affairs, Global Citizen by Janelle Strydom (included)