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Growing girls in ICT

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Last week was the fifth annual Girls in ICT conference, a global initiative who’s purpose is to encourage girls and young women to consider careers in IT, writes NATASSIA BADENHORST, co-founder of Girls Invent Tomorrow.

Last week saw the fifth annual International Girls in ICT, a global initiative organised by the International Telecommunication Union on the fourth Thursday of April – making 23 April the date for 2015.

But it’s not merely an anniversary. Around 111 000 girls and young women have already taken part in more than 3 500 events held in 140 countries.

This day is celebrated globally by many organisations for its fundamental purpose of creating an environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in the growing field of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Why is this day special and why should you care?

We should all care about the skills gap unfolding across a multitude of industries. It is imperative that we start to build up young girls (and boys) now in order to ensure that, come the year 2020, we have the right skills within the workforce.

As a public relations account director for two of South Africa’s largest tech multi-nationals, I believe that days like this are extremely important: not only in rallying global communities to take action, but also to aid in creating awareness about the ongoing problem we face across the globe – not only in SA.

If we look at the hard stats and representation in the ICT industry, globally, it is obvious that women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past. Some of the greatest disparities occur in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences fields (Source: NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2014).

It is the responsibility of enterprises, NPOs and community forums to build a platform of engagement for the young girls of South Africa to empower, educate and inspire the youth of today, building on the possibilities of tomorrow for the female workforce.

Putting the step in STEM

There are numerous initiatives and programmes that corporate South Africa supports, the ones I know of and wholeheartedly support are the programmes driven by my two favourite tech companies: Girl Rising: a global campaign for girl’s education: and DigiGirlz. a mentoring programme that gives young girls the opportunity to learn about the various careers available in technology and to connect with employees.

There are so many good people, doing amazing things in the South African ICT industry – people who are not necessarily ICT professional – like Celeste Whittaker who runs Women in IT and Thuli Sibeko who runs Girls Invent Tomorrow. These two ladies own and manage their own events companies, companies that service the ICT sector. They have noticed a decline in women in the industry over the years and decided to do something about it.

You can go to each of their pages to read more about what they do. My point is: we non-ICT professionals, are supporting the industry that moulds us: that we have come to love. We do not just do our daily jobs. We get involved, we make a noise, and we take a stand and do something that matters.

Should this not be a general consensus for all industry sectors driving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) career opportunities? I know of the dire need for Women in Engineering and there are phenomenal women, like Hema Vallabh, determined to close the gender gap in that sector too.

Want to get involved? Go through the sites listed in the article, explore, and be inspired to do something different, to address a need, to mentor a girl, to shape the industry you are in. One girl at a time.

* Natassia is an Account Director at FleishmanHillard, she is also the co-founder of Girls Invent Tomorrow, a non-profit organisation which works to empower, educate and inspire young girls in South Africa to consider careers in Science Technology Maths and Engineering (STEM) fields.

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