Women with tech skills are key to Africa’s ability to thrive in the digital economy, says Sthe Shabangu, Lead: Public Relations, Public Affairs and Corporate Citizenship, Samsung Africa Office
As women, we’re no strangers to the stereotypes that surround our often more detailed approach to getting tasks done. Too pedantic. Too fussy. We’ve heard them all.
But the truth is there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get things right. In fact, across industries companies are starting to wake up to the unique value which women bring to the workplace.
ICT, in particular, is an industry where fastidiousness is an invaluable asset.
Yet, while in many ways women are a perfect fit for the ICT profession, technology and engineering are fields which remain dominated by men. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report, women are still strongly under-represented in engineering and ICT.
We know that in Africa specifically the challenge in growing these skills starts much earlier, with more boys than girls enrolled in primary school in at least one third of African countries according to UNESCO. In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, girls who do go to school can typically expect as little as five years of education.
This is a tragedy – not only because our failure to properly educate young girls is directly contributing to high unemployment rates among women – but also because our continent is missing out on the brilliant young female minds who are needed to take Africa forward into the digital economy.
Bridging the divide
This a major part of the reason why Samsung has thrown its weight behind initiatives like its Female Professional Electronics Body in Ghana. In partnering with organisations like GIZ and KIOCA, we hope to upskill women in technical and electronic skills so that they can more effectively compete with their male counterparts.
And beyond our educational goals for a programme like this, is our hope to start changing perceptions around women in ICT and engineering. As players in the ICT space, it’s our responsibility to help break down the barriers which preclude young women from embarking on careers in electronics. Young women like Kate Amarh who spent two months at Samsung’s Female Academy Project learning about our various products.
Kate says initially her mother was disappointed when she learnt her daughter would be enrolling at the Samsung Academy. Instead, she wanted Kate to follow in her footsteps and become a nurse. It took some convincing, but eventually Kate’s mother became her biggest supporter.
Through her experience with the programme, Kate says not only has her confidence been boosted, but she has also gained invaluable experience with Samsung which will serve her well when applying for a position in the electronics environment.
Making a bigger impact
The Academy also opened doors for Comfort Pokua, who feels she now has the skills to one day manage her own company. Comfort was raised by her grandmother after her parents passed away, and as a result didn’t have the funds for secondary education. But after time spent with the programme learning about customer service, as well as how to install and reassemble Samsung products, she now feels she has the skills to achieve her career goals in engineering and technology.
In South Africa, Samsung’s Engineering Academy has given Khensani Manganyi, not only renewed hope to embark on a degree in electronics, but also to make use of her hard-earned skills to make a difference in the lives of others.
Without the opportunity to study with Samsung, Khensani feels she might never have had the opportunity to pursue higher education, or even to find the means just to care for herself and her family. Now she has a dream for the future, she says.
At the end of the day, we can’t afford to think small when it comes to tackling the challenge which surrounds gender disparity in engineering and ICT.
It’s true that in equipping young African women with technology and STEM skills we can play an important part in helping to grow careers, but the elevation of women on our continent is about more than just individuals – it’s about our collective readiness to grasp hold of an African future of infinite possibilities.