Tech mentors meet South African girls

2 February 2015

Promising young girl coders from Khayelitsha met the Twitter vice-president for engineering, Nandini Ramani, to discuss how to pitch a business idea and how to use social media to grow their success.

Ramani was among a group of 40 of the top women in technology from around the world at the gathering, which took place on 29 January at the Bandwidth Barn. The women, from TechWomen, are in South Africa to meet the country’s leaders in information and communications technology and discuss women’s roles in the sector.

TechWomen is a mentorship programme that supports female leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem). “The idea is to bridge connections and encourage women and girls to pursue careers in Stem,” said TechWomen representative Kelsi Ward.

About 60 girls and women joined the meeting, where the TechWomen shared their experiences of working in some of the biggest and most innovative companies in the world.

The young coders were from GirlHype, an organisation that aims to empower young women and girls with digital and media education skills. The Bandwidth Barn tests incubation models that work best in a community environment and that support the local community’s needs.

The visitors included professionals from Symantec, Juniper Networks and Twitter.

Ramani spoke about programming and opportunities for women in technology. “I’m here to learn and share some of my own experiences,” she said. “I grew up in India where there are a lot of obstacles for women and I still persevered. I fully believe technology is as important as good clean water and housing.”

The visitors showed the girls how to put together a motherboard. They also discussed programming languages and how to turn technology into a business.

Successful TechWomen outreach programmes also took place in Johannesburg and Pretoria, and the women met a team from Silicon Cape. “Cape Town is similar to Silicon Valley with the amount of start-ups it has,” said TechWomen mentor Diane Manning.

TechWomen, a US initiative launched by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2011, empowers, connects, and supports the next generation of female leaders in Stem from Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. It provides them with the access and opportunity they need to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and inspire women and girls in their communities.

It works through mentorship and exchange and exposes girls to female role models in Stem. Stem skills, the group says, are widely needed across a variety of trade and professional occupations. “Students who choose a Stem-related major can expect to enter a market where the number of jobs is projected to grow twice as fast as jobs in other fields over the next five years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

In addition, women in Stem jobs earn 33% more than those in non-Stem occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men. Stem careers also offer women the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation. Increasing opportunities for women in these fields is an important step towards realising greater economic success and equality for women across the board.

SAinfo reporter