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By 23 August 2023 | Categories: news

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By Valencia Risaba, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Liquid Intelligent Technologies SA

Africa’s technology sector is growing at an immense rate. According to a recent report, the estimated size of the continent’s digital economy is US$115 billion and is expected to grow to US$712 billion by 2050. As the industry continues to expand, the need for ICT employees is set to accelerate with it, with lucrative job opportunities opening up for technologically skilled workers. 

With this sector’s growth, however, ensuring ICT is diverse and inclusive is crucial. Unfortunately, data shows that women and people from diverse backgrounds are underrepresented in the tech sector, which can lead to a lack of innovation, creativity, and inclusivity.

According to a study by the World Economic Forum, only 26% of professionals in data and AI, and only 12% of cloud computing professionals are women. This lack of gender diversity is not only a problem for women but also affects the entire industry's potential because when a group is under-represented in any field, they can’t bring their unique perspectives, skills, and experiences to the table.

Fortunately, we are seeing a change in the narrative – albeit slowly – and many organisations are taking steps to increase diversity and inclusivity in their workforces. Women have stopped looking at the ICT sector and tech-related courses as being engineered exclusively towards men.

The stereotype of the tech sector – that it appeals to and is engineered towards attracting men exclusively - is also being broken at the top. ICT is seeing more women succeeding in tech who are becoming role models for other women to move in this direction. Today, women can set their sights higher and work towards their dream because they are seeing examples of those who have made it.

The importance of diversity and inclusivity in the tech industry cannot be overstated, and therefore more can – and should be done – to attract more women into the sector. Companies need to be more sensitive about how they treat employees, how they advertise for positions and how they ensure work environments are welcoming and safe for all.

And while it’s ‘the right thing to do’, promoting diversity and inclusivity makes good business sense. A recent report from McKinsey & Company found that companies with gender-diverse executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than their competitors. A company with a diverse workforce can also be perceived as an attractive employment option, allowing it to attract the best talent.

Promoting diversity and inclusivity in the tech industry requires a concerted effort by all stakeholders. Companies must take steps to recruit and retain diverse talent, ensure that their hiring processes are fair and unbiased, and create inclusive work environments where everyone feels valued and supported.

One way to promote diversity and inclusivity is through apprenticeship programmes. By pairing women with experienced mentors, businesses can help them overcome the challenges around entering the tech industry and provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. Apprenticeships will go a long way in ensuring that females get more of a chance because the gender divide in tech exists largely as a result of a lack of opportunity.

While apprenticeships and training programmes can help prospective women employees develop the skills they will need in ICT to help level the playing field, promoting diversity and inclusivity; what is really needed is a cultural shift.

Companies must actively work to challenge biases and stereotypes and create a culture that values and celebrates diversity. This cultural shift must start from the top, with executives and leaders setting the tone and leading by example, creating an environment in which anyone – regardless of gender – should feel empowered to learn, and share their thoughts and opinions.

Diversity and inclusivity must be committed to. Women – and other under-represented groups in tech – cannot be hired simply as a box-ticking exercise. Not only is it dishonest, but it also doesn’t do the companies any favours because their employees are not being helped to develop fully, which means they can’t contribute their best work and fully realise their potential.

The tech industry in Africa has immense potential to drive innovation and economic growth. However, to realise this potential, it is crucial to ensure that the industry remains diverse and inclusive. By taking steps to promote diversity and inclusivity, companies can position themselves as cutting-edge, progressive, and gendered businesses.

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