Chancellor discusses how technology is a great equalizer for women and a tool we can use to make the world around us better.

Technology is transforming our world at what seems like light-speed. In this age of exponential technology acceleration, its value is changing, and its velocity is increasing as we charge ahead into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We live in a world where technology permeates everything we do and encompasses almost every profession and it is our role as educators to ensure we help young students navigate this transformation and seize the incredible opportunities out there. Being technology illiterate is no longer an option in this global village we are all a part of.

The world we live in is connected and digital. Though, worryingly it remains far from egalitarian, as woman remain underrepresented in the ICT field. Technology may be transforming the way we live, but it is not transforming gender bias.

Explain.

2018 has been touted as “The Year of the Woman” and within the first 8 months of this year, women across the globe have stood united to further the cause of gender equality and promote social justice. Nowhere more is this message more relevant than in the information technology industry. Technology solutions are always aimed at tackling a problem – and as a species, our problems and priorities haven’t changed all that much for centuries. From efficiency to speed, equality to an end to suffering, these values and priorities underpin our DNA to survive and thrive. They are what drive us forward, as societies, individuals and organisations.

Despite the fact our country is seeing the adoption of new and emerging technology, such as artificial intelligence, the IoT (Internet of Things) and blockchain, we fall desperately short in terms of including and promoting women in the sector. According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, only 13% of South Africa’s graduates in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields are women, despite the country being ranked 19th out of 144 countries. This sector urgently needs more women passionate about change, in order for technology innovations to truly reflect the society they serve.

Education is the Key

“If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” This well-known African proverb, habitually quoted in development circles, is something as educators and nation-builders we all should embody.

Educating girls and women is especially effective on a continent like Africa, where the vast majority of households are women-led. When we educate young women, the benefits are felt throughout the whole community. Now imagine a world where we can educate as many women as possible in STEM.  Given its universal reach and appeal, ICT has enormous potential to “even out the playing field” for women and girls by providing them with access to educational tools, basic healthcare information, as well as financial inclusion into the global marketplace, from which they ordinarily would be excluded. We have witnessed over the years how this access is especially beneficial for those women and young girls in rural locations.

Recently, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, together with United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme (WFP), highlighted the role that innovations in information and communications technologies play in expanding rural women’s opportunities in value chains and enterprise development, while increasing their access to education and information.

What’s the Latest?

At Belgium Campus, we are deeply committed to supporting and engaging women at every stage of the information technology lifecycle and we work daily toward providing meaningful access to ICT for people living at the grassroots level in South Africa. This access can result in empowerment and be a driver of development, which is ultimately why we founded Belgium Campus almost 20 years ago.

What we have found is that, not only do our female students prosper in their time with us, they go on to find highly successful careers and become mentors and role models of their own. Over 500 female students have made their way through our three campuses over the past 10 years, and what makes me especially optimistic is the tremendous growth in numbers of female students joining Belgium Campus in recent years.

The Barriers to Entry

It is imperative we lay the foundation for young girls to further scientific exploration as they grow. There needs to be a new way STEM is introduced to young girls, one that entices them to want to know more and explore. We have seen young girls skilled in math and science, and who enjoy solving problems, but they have no understanding of what a career in ICT would entail or what opportunities are available for them. There is an entire workforce of bright, intelligent young girls out there who want to be creative and collaborative. Young women who want to design systems that make people healthier and safer, to preserve the environment and make the world a better place. The key to bringing more women into the ICT industry is not only encouraging more young women to study STEM. What is key here is to show women, young girls, their families and communities, the impact a technical background can have on a woman’s career and the economic potential for an entire community that accompanies it.

The Need for Mentorship

The way forward toward an inclusive tech sector sits squarely in encouraging and supporting women to pursue careers in STEM fields. We truly believe it is imperative that more initiatives are implemented in early learning education models that encourage young girls to take up the STEM subjects.

 

I recently sat down with EOH, one of our largest partners at Belgium Campus, who work very closely with our young female students to ensure they are able to not only navigate, but overcome the barriers experienced by women in technology.  “I am overjoyed to see the focus on ICT education in general,” Nomhle Kula, HR Learning and Development Consultant at EOH shared. “The role and importance of girls in ICT is vital in shaping a modern society. The push to afford girls and young women the opportunity to pursue these fields is essential.”

Nomhle believes that opening the door to young girls who are interested in ICT will ultimately help us close the gender wage gap, bring different perspectives into the workplace and create more well-rounded individuals. “Technology is how we advance as a culture and how we can change the world. So, if we mentor girls that express interest in ICT, help guide them along that path, this will keep the fire burning.”

At Belgium Campus, we truly believe that having strong female mentors and role models in the sector is of utmost importance and we have witnessed first-hand the value of the relationship EOH and other corporate partners have with the female students.

For years, as an educator, I have seen that one of the greatest challenges with ICT being a male-dominated industry is that existing and emerging technology is being developed from only one perspective – that of men. When we encourage more young women to move into the ICT space, the result will be a more balanced perspective of how technology should be designed and how it can be beneficial to society.

By Enrico Jacobs, Belgium Campus CEO