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‘Percentage of women in tech sector has declined from 40% of professionals’

The percentage of women in the local IT sector has declined from a level of 40% of professionals in the 1980s claims Cape Town entrepreneur Lorraine Steyn.

A 2014 survey by the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) of 711 IT practitioners revealed that only 21% of ICT jobs are held by women.

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“If we’re cutting out 50% of the population from those career opportunities, well I’m pissed off, I want to see the girls in there,” said Steyn, speaking at a Startup Grind event at Workshop 17 in Cape Town last night.

Steyn, the CEO of Khanyisa Real Systems (KRS), challenged businesses to be more flexible if they really wanted to bring about gender equality in tech — particularly in bringing in more women in technical areas such as programmers and developers.

Read more: Q&A: Cape Town entrepreneur Lorraine Steyn laments shortage of women in tech

Women in tech has declined from 40% in 1980s to 20% at present

She cited several factors behind the decline of women in the sector, including the introduction of the desktop computer which she pointed out was often given by parents to boys, rather than girls.

“So we hear stories of women who go to varsity and they get into computer science and they find out that they are behind their male colleagues right from the get go.”

To tackle this she emphasised the importance of school programmes that taught girls programming.

In addition she said women entering the tech industry are not staying in the sector, said Steyn. She believes that this is because of the idea that it is a high-pressured environment where people worked long hours.

Steyn pointed out how her company has tried to make use of more gender-balanced teams to support and mentor women. “It’s not just a case of getting there, to the job. You need support as well.”

She said there is also not enough women in management positions at tech companies. “Who is going to mentor women then?” she added.

Asked by an audience member how one could convince young black women from South African townships about a possible future in the tech sector, Steyn said there is a need to improve connectivity in such areas.

“How can you possibly convince a little black girl, or a little black boy or anybody else to get on to this thing if it’s not accessible?”

She contrasted SA data costs to those in India where she said some operators gave users 3Gb free data a day and pleaded with government, business and the city on the need to set up community based Wi-Fi and argued for cheaper data.

Featured image: Onsight Pictures

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