Breaking Barriers: Business Paves the Way for Women in AI and Emerging Tech Careers

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Despite strides in gender equality, the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields persists, as highlighted by the latest UNESCO report on gender-responsive education. Biases, social norms, and expectations hinder many girls and women, especially in developing countries across Africa, from pursuing STEM education and careers. This alarming gender disparity is particularly concerning given that STEM careers are crucial for future innovation, social progress, and sustainable development.

Addressing this challenge requires concerted efforts from businesses to bridge the gender gap and cultivate female leaders in emerging fields like AI, cloud computing, engineering, and data. Ursula Fear, Senior Talent Programme Manager at Salesforce, emphasizes the pressing need to tackle women’s underrepresentation in these pivotal roles within the technology industry.

To promote gender equity, businesses must prioritize initiatives that encourage more women to pursue STEM education and careers. By fostering inclusivity and providing opportunities for women to thrive in STEM fields, businesses can play a vital role in creating a more equitable workforce and driving innovation for the future.

“Addressing this challenge starts long before a woman enters the workforce. We need to work together – as education institutes, as business, as caregivers – to help cultivate an interest in ICT among young girls by exposing them to all the possibilities ICT holds,” says Fear.

“A successful outcome would be the day that we no longer need to talk about girls or women in ICT as a specific focus area. In the meantime we need to keep nurturing potential, interrogating how to make ICT more appealing to girls and women, and actively debunk any remaining stigmas, myths and stereotypes around ICT being a male field,” adds Fear.

Despite the persistent societal and educational hurdles deterring women from STEM fields, it is crucial to recognize the progress made towards gender equality in this domain. Vanashree Govender, Senior Communications Manager at Huawei South Africa, highlights Huawei’s dedication to ICT education and empowerment. Initiatives like Seeds for the Future and the Huawei Bursary Programme actively strive for a 50-50 gender split, demonstrating Huawei’s commitment to fostering gender parity in STEM.

“Our commitment to connecting more South Africans to the internet, with our telco partners, and bringing the very latest technologies to SA, means that we are well placed to run big ICT training programmes in the country. These programmes actively target women participants, from students to women entrepreneurs.”

Huawei’s Women in Tech program, in collaboration with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies in South Africa, plays a pivotal role in providing essential exposure to cutting-edge technologies such as 5G, Cloud, and AI to women entrepreneurs and ICT students. These initiatives are crucial for advancing digital skills and preparing women for the future workplace, ensuring they are not hindered by gender roles or accessibility challenges.

Similarly, the traditionally male-dominated e-hailing industry has witnessed a notable shift towards greater participation by female drivers. Recognizing the importance of supporting women’s active involvement and fostering entrepreneurship in the South African economy, Uber has introduced various initiatives and in-app features. One such feature, Women Rider Preferred, empowers women by allowing them to choose to be connected with women riders, thereby addressing barriers they may face in their businesses.

“We are especially proud to have been able to empower women in South Africa with access to new and flexible earning opportunities by providing them with the necessary resources to thrive and continue to improve their mobility and independence,” says Lorraine Onduru, Head of Communications, Sub-Saharan Africa, Uber

“Uber is committed to women earners and working with industry partners to remove any barriers that exist for women to get on the platform,” adds Lorraine

In our dedication to bridging the gender gap in STEM roles, Future Forex has implemented proactive measures to empower and champion women in the fintech sector. “We’re pleased to highlight the robust representation of women, especially in pivotal leadership roles, across diverse departments within our organization,” affirms Harry Scherzer, CEO of Future Forex. The talented women and all female team members bring a wealth of diverse skills, perspectives, and expertise, playing a pivotal role in driving our company’s success and fostering its growth.

“An example of this is that, as part of our software engineering department, we have a seasoned female professional who has been instrumental in driving our technological advancements forward, demonstrating exceptional proficiency and dedication in her role,” says Scherzer. “Similarly, our Head of Trading is a science graduate who possesses a wealth of industry knowledge and strategic acumen, guiding our trading operations with precision and insight,” he adds.

Future Forex is not only committed to addressing the gender gap by investing in the empowerment and development of women in STEM but also in cultivating a talented and diverse female workforce that drives innovation and success for the future.

By creating purposeful spaces conducive to women in STEM, Future Forex aims to accelerate sustainable development across various metrics, as evidenced by numerous studies worldwide and across different sectors. “Including and empowering women is key to achieving a higher return on investment (ROI) in our efforts to address the challenges facing our communities,” emphasizes Ayanda Mvandaba, CA(SA) and Entrepreneur.

“We must be purposeful about curating spaces that are conducive for women in STEM to create magic,” adds Mvandaba. In bridging the gap, the first point of call is, and always will be, access to information and opportunities. Mvandaba says businesses need to be intentional in how they choose to expose women in STEM in ways that boost their confidence and their skills and grow their networks.

“In order to address the gender divide with women in STEM roles, in my capacity as CEO of Drink Nil , I engage in mentorship relationships, provide sponsorships, emphasise continuous professional development, expose women to my network while teaching them to use the network effectively and the importance of social capital.”

Mvandaba, this year, has also launched the Ayanda Vabaza-Mvandaba Bursary for students going into any field within the commerce faculty at a South African University.

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