23 August 2019
Address by Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana: Women in ICT Session
A Happy women’s month to all of you. This month is about a time to reflect … on how far we have come, a time to measure … exactly where we are, a time to celebrate … the successes that have been achieved, but also a time plan … on how to overcome the challenges and gaps that still exist.
Despite decades of certain progress towards achieving equality in the workplace - in technology, women remain significantly under-represented. Unfortunately, this imbalance between men and women in the technology sector is unlikely to be remedied, any time soon, UNLESS corporates, governments, schools and universities work together to change entrenched perceptions about the technology industry being a male industry.
Beyond that, we all need to take responsibility to educate young people about the dynamics and range of careers in the technology world, and especially young women and girls.
I’m not sure if any of you know this, that in addition to my role as Deputy Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, I also hold the prestigious title of Secretary General of the Pan African Women’s Organisation, a specialised agency of the African Union, so one of Standard Bank’s pay off lines, has always resonated with me: “Africa is our home, we drive her growth”. What a wonderful sentiment to show your pride in being from Africa, and what a magnificent way to recognise the African woman, in the context of the African continent.
So, from an AU perspective, it is refreshing to know that Africa has one of the highest growing economies in the world, only after South Asia. Growth is predicted to accelerate to 4.1% by the end of 2019. Global companies have all viewed Africa as the next frontier, and are keenly tapping into this potential wealth by investing in the growing number of tech hubs in Africa. According to GSMA Ecosystem research, there were 442 tech hubs operating in Africa in 2018, up from 314 in 2016. Leading the way was South Africa with 59 hubs, followed closely by Nigeria with 55.
As an African woman, and a leader of a women’s organisation of the African Union, I am extremely encouraged by the report from Mastercard’s Index of Women’s Entrepreneurship for 2018, which revealed an extremely vibrant market for female-led businesses in Africa. Our Ghanian sisters top the global list. It is Ghana, yes Ghana that performs the BEST worldwide, in women making up 46.4% of business owners. Russia is 2nd at 34.6%, and another African country, Uganda is 3rd with 33.8%. It saddens me to tell you that South Africa is a ¾ way DOWN the list with a dismal 18.8%. The world is taking a leaf out of Ghana’s book, because Ghana’s overall index score is extremely future-focussed, prompted by high engagement of women in entrepreneurship and high % of the labour force relative to men. In fact, women and youth here are spearheading business creation, especially in hospitality, retail, agriculture, government, and especially the ICT sector, with Africa’s newest tech start-up hubs being in Ghana and Cote d’Ivore.
Over the last few years, the immense size of the African market has drawn very high-profile investors and global tech giants, mainly due to the increased smartphone adoption and lower internet costs. In 2017, venture capital funding reached $560 million, a 53% year-on-year growth. Prominent tech leaders including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Ma of Alibaba, and Google’s Sundar Pichai have also visited tech hubs across the continent in the past two years, launching products and looking for new opportunities.
The statistics of women in the global ICT workforce show that of the 30% of women who do work in the ICT sector, only a small proportion are in the formal ICT sector, indicating that many women are losing out on equal pay, social rights and protection, and promotion possibilities to raise themselves, their children and families out of poverty. In our own country, for example, 51% of those working in the ICT sector are women but only 22% are employed in formal jobs.
Today, I stand before you … a group of women that are part of this 22%, and I urge you to spread the message of technology being an enabler, an opportunity for women to participate in the economy, to upskill and reskill themselves, and give themselves and their children an opportunity at a better life!
As an example : some women in Bangladesh whose husbands do not allow them to leave the house to work, as a tradition and culture, but who are quite happy for them to have home-run businesses and sell through the Internet.
In the United States alone, 45% of women leave the tech industries in the first year of employment. The premise is of course the home and the parental attitude to gender. Stereotyping begins early in childhood, and continues in school, where girls are encouraged to pursue humanities and social science subjects rather than STEM and ICT subjects.
According to UNESCO, there is an opportunity cost which for the ICT sector alone amounts to between 50-70 billion dollars. “Gender parity in the workplace is not just an ethical or moral issue, but also an economic one”, McKinsey found that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.
According to WEF, in South Africa, women earn 60 cents for each rand earned by men. The lack of female representation in the workforce and especially in leadership positions is another barrier to gender equality. In South Africa, for every ten men, only eight women are employed or actively looking for work, although women make up more than half of the working-age population. But expediting gender equality at work pays dividends. According to PwC estimations, closing the pay gap across OECD countries could increase total female earnings by US$2 trillion, an increase of 23%.7.
A PWC report called ’16 Nudges for more women in tech’, estimates significant economic benefits if we close the gender gap in South Africa in both pay and representation by just 10%. Their calculations suggest economic growth off-shoots of an additional 3.2% in GDP growth and a massive 6.5% reduction in the number of unemployed job seekers. STEM is obviously the answer to bring more women, especially young women, into skilled and professional jobs. According to a 2017 WEF report on the future of jobs in Africa, cultivating an interest in STEM fields must start as early as possible, at schools and in higher education. From an early age, behavioural design can help through de-biasing classrooms, changing how our children are taught, as well as through celebrating counter-stereotypical role models.
Additionally, schools should be proactive in exposing young girls to tech capabilities. Computer programming and/or information technology could be included in the curriculum for primary and secondary schools as compulsory subjects for all children. Globally, more women than men are enrolled in tertiary education, but why do men outnumber women in skilled jobs? It’s called the ‘leaky pipeline’, and is critical to the explanation of the lack of female representation in skilled jobs. It refers to the continuous haemorrhaging of women out of work as they exit their careers over time, especially as they become mothers.
Levelling the playing field to include more women in skilled jobs, and specifically in the emerging tech environment, is of paramount financial importance for businesses and has broader socio-economic implications for countries looking to prosper. Countries need to pay attention to the gender gap not only because it makes business sense, but also because such inequality is inherently unfair.
In the era of the 4th industrial revolution, Emerging-Tech is revolutionising the world. But, are women part of this, to contribute to shaping this brave new world?
Emerging tech is only as well-rounded as the people who teach it and create it. However, in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), the cornerstone of emerging tech, women hold only one fifth of executive positions currently. Emerging tech is a crucial field for women to help shape, as every day, our dependence on the speed and efficiency of new technologies grows.
As I conclude, I want to leave you with this message. The responsibility to be open to change and reinvention does not lie with our employers, at all, it lies with US, you & I. If we believe in the changes of 4IR being upon us, we must train ourselves, and our daughters, in the relevant skills. If we have an interest in robotics, Artificial Intelligence or even Data Science we must acquaint ourselves with the fundamentals without being prompted by anyone else. Whatever our profession, let us review how our skills and knowledge can be replaced with a robot, then surely we need to look at what reskilling and upskilling is needed to keep ourselves relevant and make money.
To the finalists and the winner today, You are ALL winners because this opportunity gives you a platform to push boundaries and break frontiers. I wish you all well in this final stretch, and I know you will fly South Africa’s flag high, always. The tech industry is abundant with opportunity. Reinvent yourself and unlock the potential of emerging tech.