For many young women, a career in information technology, the sciences and engineering can be intimidating: all that maths, all that studying, all those long hours getting to grips with concepts that don’t come easily.
Many girls write off any chance of building a career in IT and in science. Yet, the IT sector needs women to join its ranks as it’s a vocation that’s heavily dominated by male professionals and practitioners.
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Recently, a group of professional women joined forces to encourage young girls to get serious about maths and science, and to consider a career in information technology. At an event in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, around 100 grade 11 girls from schools were treated to a morning of mentoring, encouragement and demystification of the IT sector, and of the world of professional science, engineering and technology.
The morning, organised by Nkgwete IT Solutions chief executive Siddika Osman, saw various speakers engage the girls on the exciting, lucrative and fulfilling future that awaits in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sectors of the economy.
Dineo Lioma, founder and chief executive at Deep Medical Therapeutics, and a nono-technologist and artificial intelligence innovator in medicine, told the girls that a career in science and tech is within reach. She said, “Let’s celebrate the nerd: the girl who focuses on what matters, who has steely determination and who invests in herself.”
Lioma is 33 years old. She has a Master’s degree in micro- and nanotechnology from Cambridge University; and is an engineer, biotech innovator and businesswoman.
Gender, she said, does not define where you will excel. “Success comes from consistency, hard work and believing in yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you that science is not for girly girls. It is. And I, who was once a girl just like you, am proof of this. Technology not only has the power to change the world. It has the power to change your life, too.”
Lioma was joined on the speaker podium by Nosisa Penxa (office of the premier, Eastern Cape), Valencia Magagane (iOS developer at Standard Bank), Promise Mohaleni (clinical psychologist), Azwi Sigama (solutions architect at Eskom), Aaron Sigulda (finance educator at FNB), Minckey Molemane (senior academic administrator at Tshwane University of Technology) and Nkgwete IT Solutions’ Osman.
Osman said she is deeply invested in South Africa and its future as a continental leader in IT innovation, delivery and growth. “We are defined by the company we keep. For many young women, the road to success in this industry seems strewn with insurmountable challenges. But I want all young women to know that there are women who are willing and able to support them, encourage them and give them the help they need to succeed.”
A dynamic economic sector
Daisy Mokoena, an 18-year-old learner at Witbank High School, was thrilled to have been invited to attend the event. “My matric subjects are all very scientific: Physical Sciences, Maths, Computer Application Technologies and Life Sciences. It’s easy to get demoralised and overwhelmed. What I heard this morning has inspired me and motivated me. I know I can do this. I can succeed, and I will.”
Her friend, 17-year-old Samu Malinga, a learner at Thomas Percy Sililo Secondary School, said the event was an inspiration to her, too. “I am energised and excited. It’s great listening to the stories of women who believe in girls: in our future and in our ability to be whatever we dream of being. They are living examples of what is possible with focus and hard work.”
Asanda Mlambo, a 19-year-old learner at Zacheus Malaza Secondary School, said the morning reminded her of the importance of self-discipline. “It’s so easy to get distracted by things that do not really matter. My dream is to work one day in construction management. I am leaving here this morning with fresh determination to make this happen!”
Said Osman: “Information technology is a dynamic economic sector. It’s one that’s hungry for talent, and for committed, energetic and innovative people. The best way to attract young women into the profession is to give them a glimpse into the career: its rewards, challenges and the opportunities it offers to grow.
“Young women need support and they need encouragement. They need to understand that it’s not always easy, but that it is always worthwhile. Those of us who have built successful careers and businesses are the people to provide that support. We owe it to the youth, and we owe it, too, to the future of our sector and our country.”