Despite decades of progress towards achieving equality in the workplace, women remain significantly under-represented in emerging tech.
The imbalance between men and women in the technology sector is unlikely to be remedied unless organisations, schools and universities work together to change entrenched perceptions about the tech industry, and educate young people about the dynamics and range of careers in the technology world.
According to a report by issued by PwC’s Economics, women currently hold 19% of tech-related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies, relative to men who hold 81%. In leadership positions at these global tech giants, women make up 28%, with men representing 72%.
In South Africa, the proportion of females to males who graduate with STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees is out of kilter.
WEF statistics show women are under-represented in maths and statistics (4:5), ICT and technology (2:5), as well as engineering, manufacturing and construction (3:10). Thus, there is a significantly smaller pool of female STEM talent, restricting the potential of South Africa’s technology sector.
Lullu Krugel, Chief Economist for PwC Africa, says: “The technology sector is an exciting, fast-moving sector, but disappointingly many women prefer to steer clear of careers in technology. Part of the reason is the low number of girls pursuing STEM subjects at school and in higher education. Our research shows that unless we change various cultural and behavioural drivers within organisations, the matter is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.”
Overall, the lack of female representation in the workforce and especially in leadership positions is a barrier to gender equality. Economists estimate that if we close the gender gap in both representation and pay gap by just 10%, South Africa could achieve higher economic growth.
Calculations suggest economic spin-offs of an additional 3.2% in GDP growth and a 6.5% reduction in the number of unemployed job seekers. Closing the gender gap also helps to alleviate poverty: low-income households will receive an estimated 2.9% more income than previously. “Enormous economic opportunity lies in promoting gender workforce equality,” Krugel adds.
Although some strides have been made to advance women in tech, more needs to be done. To change the way talent is developed and deployed in today’s world requires the undoing and relearning of age-old thought processes and the formation of new norms and values – especially in the education system and labour market.
Maura Feddersen, PwC Economist adds: “Biases are ingrained in our cognitive processes and undoing them is difficult.”
“Behavioural measures, or ‘nudges’, are one instrument in our collective toolbox to correct for gender imbalances in education and at work. Nudges change the context in which we make decisions to help us achieve our goals. They can offer low-hanging fruit to promote female representation in emerging tech and establish new foundations for inclusive economic growth,” she concluded.