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What women should know about being in the tech business

This is what South African female entrepreneurs in the technology sphere had to say about the industry.

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Two Businesswomen Working On Computer In Office, iStock, monkeybusinessimages, https://www.istockphoto.com/za/photo/two-businesswomen-working-on-computer-in-office-gm637152194-113484707

Grace Hopper, the ‘First Lady of Software’, was best known for helping to create the first all-electronic digital computer in the 1940’s. Since then, more and more women have been making ground-breaking innovations in the technology space.

But what are some of the challenges that women often face in the industry? We look at what South African female entrepreneurs in the technology industry had to say about some of the challenges they have faced and what other women need to know.

According to IT Online, only 23% of tech jobs are held by women in South Africa – out of 236,000 ICT (tech) roles, women occupy 56,000 of them.

Another survey by the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) of 711 IT practitioners revealed that only 21% of ICT jobs are held by women, reports ventureburn.com. The reports also state that the local IT sector has declined from a level of 40% of professionals in the 1980s.

The decline, according to Lorraine Steyn -  the first woman outside of America to be a Delphi Certified Developer-  is “because of the idea that it is a high-pressured environment where people worked long hours.”

Rumbidzai Zawu, co-founder and chief operations officer at U-App, told IT- Online that women in tech often have to deal with resistance from clients because of their gender.

Zawu told the publication that “coming across individuals who stereotype that technology is a male-based industry means they are immediately resistant to work with a female tech specialist”.

Another challenge that women in the tech business face is being told they are behind their male colleagues right from the get go.

“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,” Steyn told Ventureburn.com.

Annette Muller, the Founder and CEO of DOTNXT and Flexy, says these things have to change.

“Firstly, equality in compensation. It really makes absolutely no sense for men to earn more than women simply based on gender. That is something that I don’t even understand and can’t actually believe it is still happening in this day and age,” says Muller.

“Secondly, the biggest change I think is in current business structures, processes and policies. One of course that I am particularly passionate about is flexibility, and creating structures where women have the freedom to choose how they want to work, that works best for them being wives, mothers, and community leaders. Simple changes in how businesses operate, which was previously set up in the industrial age before women really entered the workplace, can bring a lot of productivity and healthier workforces all round as the lines of the roles that women and men play at home become more and more blurry,” adds Muller.

Thirdly, she says there needs to be a "change in leadership as more females enter leadership roles. This does require a change in mindset to be open to experiment and see how different kinds of leadership can be deployed in the workplace. There is no right or wrong but being open to new ways of leading can open up new opportunities for various corporations and smaller enterprises." 

Word of advice from the experts

Steyn’s advice to other women looking to start-up is “build a great team around you by being the sort of person who inspires and encourages others. Your team will help you through the tough times, so invest time in creating good relationships at work and in your personal life,” she told ventureburn.com.

“Don’t get into more debt than you can handle. I believe strongly in the saying “fail fast, fail small” meaning that you try out your idea and learn your lessons as quickly, and cheaply, as possible. Lack of funding is likely to be your biggest problem, so really focus on the money and making best use of your resources,” she added.

Muller encourages women to never undermine their strength.

“Everyone is just human, if they can do it, you can do it. It (technology) is the future of all industries, every company will be a technology-driven company so don’t even think twice, just do it,” she told Women In Tech.

She also offers the following tips for women who want to be key role players in the tech business.

1. Educate yourself

You have all the information at your fingertips. Saying “I don't know” is just not going to cut it. Google it. Learn it. Listen to podcasts. Do online courses.

2. Network

You are literally a Facebook or LinkedIn message away from anyone you admire or respect, reach out and build the network of people you need to surround yourself with.

3. Be flexible

You have to be able to adapt and flow with the currents in this new world. Opportunities live behind the doors you are scared of.

4. Travel

You have to see the world, experience different markets and expose yourself as much as possible. Getting out of your immediate environment is what will open up your mind. Save the money. Eat less, socialise less, shop less! Invest money in gaining experience of how the world works.

5. Get a coach

If you serious about your career, get a coach. You will need to develop emotional intelligence, leadership qualities, and abilities to collaborate and communicate across various different cultures, religions, and personalities in the future. Learning these softer skills is what will separate high performers from laggers in an ever more technical and automated, location independent future of work.

What do a television presenter, an entrepreneur, a social media lawyer, and a doctor-turned-self-made businesswoman have in common? They’re all #UnStoppable and will be inspiring other women to reach for the sky at the sold-out FNB Business Women’s Breakfast in association with East Coast Radio. The event takes place on 20th August at the Durban ICC. If you bought tickets to this exclusive event, we'll see you there!

Also read: Philanthropy’s place in your business

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