Women must explore tech space

2019-07-23 06:25

Less than one-third of the world’s technical workforce are women, and the numbers aren’t growing.

In the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), women constitute only 22%. All the above is according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and Forbes.

With that said, students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business (GSB) are aiming to change this by bringing more women into the conversation to share and learn about how to best support each other while navigating the complexity and uncertainty of digital disruption. The 20th annual Women in Business Conference will be hosted on Friday 16 August in the new conference centre at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) with the theme “Disrupt: Industry 4.0” and it will be looking on how women can take advantage of advances in technology; including the impact of AI, social media revolutions, and data management.

The line-up includes lectures and panel discussions featuring industry leaders like Thato Kgatlhanye, founder and chief executive officers (CEO) of the Rethaka Group, Pascale Henke, co-founder and CEO of Brownie Points, Samantha Perry, co-founder of Women in TechZA, Lynette Hundermark, co-founder of Useful & Beautiful, and Christelle Colman, managing director (MD) of Elite Risk Acceptances, who was voted one of the top 50 most creative people in business in South Africa by Fast Company in 2015.

The 20th annual Women in Business Conference at UCT will be bringing together industry leaders to explore how women disruptors can win in a world transformed by technology.

More opportunities are opening for women, especially black women, in the fields of innovation and technology in business, says Baratang Miya, founder of GirlHype, a non-governmental organisation that promotes women in science, engineering, technology and maths (Stem) and teaches girls software programming and coding. “There is more money in the market and space is beginning to accept us, and that anti-women culture is gone,” she says.

Miya will be one of the speakers at the conference.

GSB director of executive education Kumeshnee West says: “The fourth industrial revolution will unlock many opportunities for women in business, especially for those leveraging the power of a globalised network to push for greater change,” she says, adding that gender bias is strong in the technology sector and needs to be consciously overcome.

West says more women need to be brought into the conversation to share and learn about how to best support each other while navigating the complexity and uncertainty of digital disruption. There are positive signs that things are starting to shift in the tech sector.

Facebook recently announced it would double the percentage of women working in its offices, while also doubling the number of black and Hispanic employees in the United States of America (USA) over the next five years.

At the same time, research shows that women use social media more than men.

According to a recent survey, 71% of women use social media compared to 62% of men. Interestingly, 62% of sharing on Facebook is done by women, with the rise of the mommy blogger being an interesting phenomenon on social media.

In the USA, there are 3.9 million mom blogs – many with businesses and products behind them. In South Africa, Mommy Mall, a mom-to-mom trading concept is operated by women for women, with online trade and shopping activity among its 80 000 members in 18 Mommy Mall branches across the country.

Conference committee co-chairperson and Masters of Business Administration (MBA) student at the GSB, Nicole Funk says technology has already changed the way people use transport, book restaurants, pay for accommodation and watch movies. She believes the impact on businesses and women in business will be huge.

“People tend to be scared of what they don’t know, of new things. That is why this conference is important, to show people what is coming and to embrace it.”

Co-chairperson, Yossabel Chetty, also an MBA student says: “There are many misconceptions about technology. The fourth industrial revolution is not only about AI and changes in the job market; it is also about sustainability, alternative energy sources, social impact ventures and how technology can be used to uplift and better lives, for instance using drone technology to distribute medicine or improve agricultural practices.”

There are so many opportunities for women here, she believes. Encouraging more women to study and train in technology fields, launching start-ups and getting involved in technology is key to capitalise on these opportunities, believes Funk.

The conference aims to bring together professionals from across sectors as well as private and public enterprises into an environment where thought-provoking and energising conversations can take place and powerful connections can be made, while enjoying lectures and panel discussions featuring industry leaders.

The annual Women in Business Conference at GSB is organised by students at the school. All funds raised through the event will go towards a bursary fund to enable women to study at the school. V For more information visit www.gsbblogs.uct.ac.za/womeninbusiness/ and join the conversation: #WomeninTech #WomeninBusiness.

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