Can South African women plug the coding skills gap?

There is a sharp demand for software developers worldwide, and it is only going to increase as technologies like generative AI push companies and their investors towards bigger, better, and more digital innovations.

According to a report from software vendor Tienpont International, there were 40 million vacancies for software developers and coders worldwide in 2021. The vendor calls the shortage of developers “severe.”

In South Africa, this skills shortage is even more pronounced, to the point where major corporations like MTN are actively upskilling people in an effort to create their own sources of professionals.

“Given the high stakes, companies must expand their search for talent beyond their traditional sources and be open to investing in and supporting newcomers to the tech industry. This would mean that capable individuals who are not necessarily trained in software development but show strong potential in creative problem-solving, should be given a chance to gain new skills and be guided into coding roles through mentorship,” explains Mvelo Hlophe, CEO of the online coding training platform Zaio.

Mvelo Hlophe, CEO of Zaio.

Today is International Women’s Day, so it is even more notable that the tech industry remains a big ol’ boys club. A 2022 survey from Statista reveals that 91.88 percent of all software developers worldwide are men.

“Given this imbalance, it should be an absolute no-brainer for companies to actively seek out female candidates in their next hiring cycle. By increasing the representation of women in the developer workforce, tech companies can simultaneously address the skills shortage and work towards fostering a more inclusive environment,” says Hlophe.

But unfortunately, it is not so easy.

There are obstacles preventing South African women in particular to join the industry, upskill as developers, start coding, and take an active role in the digital future of the country. The first blockage is accessibility.

“In South Africa, many women either grew up in environments with little to no access to computers or, even if they did, their parents simply steered them down a path that was more aligned with their gender roles,” says the Zaio boss.

That’s why Zaio is experimenting with TikTok-style videos aimed at young women. These videos target women through mobile phones, which enjoy a wider range of access as compared to PCs locally.

“Once they watch our videos and show an interest in learning to code, they can usually make a plan to borrow a laptop from someone until they have the funds available to purchase one for themselves,” Hlophe adds.

Another way Zaio is reaching local women and getting them interested in coding is through increasing representation. It’s as simple as showing that women can code and can be in the tech field and can be software developers.

“We effectively boosted our recruitment of female talent by incorporating more inclusive imagery in our marketing campaigns. We also believe that partnering with influential women in the tech industry will inspire and create role models for young women, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and diverse tech community.”

Hlophe believes tech companies are required to adapt their recruitment strategies and invest in mentoring aspiring developers, especially women, to help them “thrive in their new coding roles.”

The final obstacle the industry is facing is retention. “Despite their attempts to tackle the disparity in gender representation, the unfortunate reality is that women continue to leave the technology sector at an alarming rate,” he says.

“It is important to remember that the end goal is not just to recruit female talent but also to retain them. After successfully onboarding and integrating employees into the company, it’s crucial for employers to continue fostering a long-lasting relationship with them.”

How do firms do this? For starters, they need to create an environment that supports women’s success by removing the infamous glass ceiling – barriers to career advancement, addressing pay gaps, promoting work-life balance, and completely eliminating gender bias and harassment.

“If companies neglect these issues, their new hires will continue to leave their developer positions and all their recruitment efforts would have been futile.”

Companies in South Africa still have a far way to go before these three major obstacles become a thing of the past, but when it comes to trying to recruit more coders it would be folly to completely ignore half of the population.

While work from nonprofits like GirlCode is slowly making an impact in underprivilaged communities, the real work is only getting started now.

[Image – Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash]


About Author


Related News