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Information Technology: Is It A Man’s World?

Women in the workplace want to make an impact worth remembering.

Katya Linossi

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We’re used to the argument that women in business are on the rise and the evidence for this speaks for itself. But the opinion that technology is a man’s game is often left unchallenged especially in some parts of the world. Traditionally women have had little representation in the IT world.

This was certainly the case when I started my career almost 20 years ago. Over time, the combination of increased reliance on technology, promise of equality in westernised countries and intensified recruiting efforts of companies across several industries has transformed this trend throughout the past decade.

Being a woman in technology, I’m keen to explore how – and why – women have become an asset to the IT sector.

My first encounter with IT was in the late 1980s by hanging out with the “geeks” at the after school Computing Club. Technology quickly harnessed my interest. My first big leap into IT as a career came when I was offered a job as a Test Analyst for a market research software company. I used my experience in market research as a basis to secure this position. I was then promoted into a role of pre-sales consulting which included coding in HTML and Visual Basic. By utilising my experience and training, I broke down any notion of a glass ceiling for myself – a woman in IT.

I was then offered a great job to run an e-commerce website where I had to work with teams in Copenhagen, London and Boston. When the dot com crash occurred in the early 2000’s, I was again able to try my hand in another field of IT, this time as a Project Manager for a large agency in London. In turn, this led to the inception of ClearPeople, the technology company that I co-founded.

Related: How Women Entrepreneurs Can Change the SA Business Landscape

This quick summary of my CV is to demonstrate one main point – I did not come from a technical background. But this has not affected my progression in the technology industry. With each step my career has taken, I had to consume myself completely in new technologies. I believe it is your attitude and willingness to learn which enables success and I encourage more women to do the same.

Exposure diminishes gender barriers

Gender-roles

More women are entering the IT sector for a number of reasons. The first is that more are exposed to IT as technologies have become pervasive tools necessary to complete social interactions and work-related tasks. Such ubiquitous exposure diminishes gender barriers, thus increasing gender neutral interest in IT.

Over several decades organisations have driven programmes designed to acquaint women to IT related fields in an effort to close the gender gap and to create equal opportunities.

For instance, organisations like The Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology, the Society of Women Engineers and even the Girl Scouts have focused on increasing exposure and experience with technology, science, maths and several other fields to pave a path for women in historically male dominated industries.

As each gender barrier is broken down, it leads way for women to conquer new heights.

Currently, women hold 29% of tech positions overall. However, after analysing industry tech reports, CNET found that although the percentage of women in tech roles is on the incline, there are “significantly fewer women in positions to influence their companies’ product development and or strategic direction”. Female representation at Board level in any industry is still nowhere near high enough but we are making progress.

Although change may not be occurring at a rapid pace, I am pleased to see women are becoming more involved in technology, seen in the numbers of women enrolling in tech-related courses at university levels for example. As each generation progresses, we will see more women rise and become more influential in business.

A perfect example of introducing stereotypical male interests to women has been illustrated in a recent campaign by EDF, the second largest energy company in the UK.

Their “Pretty Curious” campaign captivates the momentum of young females that are fascinated, curious and inspired by technology. The technology, science and engineering sectors are facing a large skills shortage already now and this will only widen in the future. Efforts in corporations that encourages young women to be uninhibited by technology and science is a giant leap towards breaking down gender barriers and establishing unified interests across all fields.

Watch the campaign video below:

IT programmes

IT-programmes-for-women

Similar to EDF, many IT companies in the western world have implemented a number of programmes in order to bring and keep more women into the workplace. They are not doing this to just reach equality quotas set by some governments or to fill a skills shortage gap, but because it is proven that gender-diverse teams deliver superior productivity and financial performance compared with homogenous teams.

How? Through improved team work – a study of 272 projects in 4 companies proved that gender diversity on technical work teams was associated with superior adherence to project schedules, lower project costs and higher employee performance ratings.

Related: (Slideshow) 8 Tenacious SA Women That Rule with Smarts and Sense

Gender-balanced teams are also the most likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge, and fulfil tasks. And most importantly, financial performance is higher than average when there is gender diversity at the top management. In particular, these companies demonstrated superior return on equity, earnings before interest and taxes, and stock price growth.

According to the Mail and Guardian, the share of women in the non-agricultural employment sector has increased from 43% in 1996 to 45% in 2012 (the latest available figure), and 77% of women earned the same amount as men, according to 2010 figures from Statistics South Africa. But there is still a way to go for full equality of women in business in South Africa who are still falling short in gender equality standards compared to other parts of the western world.

Diversity and being adventurous are two of our values that we continuously promote at ClearPeople. Being a woman in IT is empowering and fulfilling, and I encourage those who are interested in IT to follow your interest and to stay curious.

Katya Linossi is Co-founder and Managing Director of award-winning digital agency ClearPeople. She has been instrumental in shaping the strategy and operations of ClearPeople’s digital services since its inception in 2003, leading a team of over 50 staff in London and Alicante. She has over 20 years’ extensive international experience in both marketing and technical roles for software companies and has also managed large web-based projects and teams for blue chip clients like Microsoft and Ford. Linossi is a seasoned speaking, invited to provide thought leadership at events like Technology for Marketing & Advertising and publications such as the Law Society Gazette. Linossi holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Honours in Marketing, as well as a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Warwick.

Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Funding For Women Entrepreneurs – A Collective Effort

The bottom line is that while funders need to stretch further to reach female entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs need to make their own efforts to connect and ready themselves to tap these resources. Only then will the latent economic value of women in our economy reach its full potential.

Jenny Retief

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It is well recognised that women are powerful drivers of economic growth in South Africa, and are vital to the country reaching its full economic potential. Yet women account for only 18% percent of business owners in South Africa, according to the second Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), released earlier this year.

The reasons are many, including lack of financial literacy, but one of the biggest constraints facing women entrepreneurs is access to finance. As most women entrepreneurs are concentrated in the informal sector, the majority of them access financing through micro-lending institutions, which offer only limited support. When they are ready to grow into SMMEs, they again face difficulties in obtaining loans from commercial banks.

According to the ‘Inaugural South African SMME Access to Finance Report’, published last year by the online access to finance portal Finfind, the SMME sector provides a “compelling, largely untapped market opportunity for innovative funders”, estimating the SMME credit gap at between R86bn and R346bn.

Finfind’s research showed that many SMMEs that are eligible for funding are still unable to secure it due to their lack of finance readiness, i.e., they are unable to produce the financial documentation required by funders to assess bankability and affordability, in order to approve their funding applications. These documents include up-to-date management accounts, latest financial statements, budgets, forecasts and tax clearance certificates, among others.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

This was reiterated at the recent African Youth Networks Summit in Tswhane, where the head of Old Mutual Foundation Millicent Maroga stressed, “the key issue is a distinct lack of support in getting the business ready for funding”.

Enter initiatives like the Riversands Incubation Hub, a campus north of Sandton that houses over 150 established and start-up small businesses in subsidised premises, with access to business support services. One of its key values to its SMMEs is bridging the gap between them and the many players in the funding space, in particular through its annual FundEX event, a platform giving guidance and helping to match entrepreneurs with funders.

“Contrary to popular belief, there is funding available. FundEX provides practical guidance on what funding is available and what it takes to access this capital. It also gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to interact with a variety of funders, including banks, government funders and alternative funding platforms,” says Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub.

The theme this year is ‘Secrets of Scale’, unpacking what it takes to build a ‘fundable’ business. This is highly pertinent, as much of the complexity in the SMME funding environment is seated in the size of the business, and what stage of growth it is at.

Finfind’s research found that although SMMEs and start-ups may qualify for venture capital funding, funding opportunities for less scalable SMMEs are less promising. “This opens the door for new, innovative funding models to serve this section of the SMME market. Start-ups and micro-businesses represent a significant potential market for innovative funders who are able to develop new lending models tailored to address this growing market,” said the report.

As women proliferate in this space, they need to equip themselves with as much as information as possible about the funding opportunities out there, says Retief.

“The DTI, for example, offers funding programmes, and aggregators such as FinFind and others can help entrepreneurs navigate the more than 400 different funding solutions available in SA. Entrepreneurs can also boost their business by regular engagement with a mentor. Many incubation programmes offer this type of support,” she says.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

There are also many initiatives to bring resources closer to entrepreneurs. For example, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) offers Technology Stations in diversified sectors, ranging from agro-processing, chemicals, clothing and textiles to tooling. These provide entrepreneurs access to university-level technical levels and specialised equipment at affordable pricing levels.

This speaks to upskilling, a key offering of incubation hubs and critical for women entrepreneurs needing to become finance literate. “At Riversands, we have a team of coaches and mentors who guide entrepreneurs in specific areas such as finance or strategy. Relevant educational material is regularly presented in formal as well as informal ways and reinforced with practical coaching to help entrepreneurs put theory into practice in their own businesses.  This is flanked with professional bookkeeping services provided on a subsidised basis. This allows business owners to build the financial records and systems their businesses need to qualify for understanding,” says Retief.

The bottom line is that while funders need to stretch further to reach female entrepreneurs, these entrepreneurs need to make their own efforts to connect and ready themselves to tap these resources. Only then will the latent economic value of women in our economy reach its full potential.

Riversands FundEX takes place on August 16. For more information visit: http://www.fundex.co.za

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

These 13 black businesswomen are rapidly rising stars. You can learn from their journey and their entrepreneurial advice.

Entrepreneur

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Women all over the world are the powerhouses behind some of the newest, innovative start-ups and concept businesses. South African businesswomen are gaining momentum in this global arena too, with success stories like the 13 ladies below.

Female-led business growth is happening in South Africa, despite the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) statistics showing that only 6.2% of South African females take the leap into entrepreneurship.

These 13 black female businesswomen are going against statistical trends and represent some of the rising stars in South Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape. 

  1. Boitumelo Ntsoane
  2. Phuti Mahanyele 
  3. DJ Zinhle 
  4. Polo Leteka Radebe
  5. Michelle Okafor
  6. Sonia Booth
  7. Basetsana Kumalo
  8. Sibongile Sambo
  9. Molemo Kgomo
  10. Nkhensani Nkosi
  11. Bonang Matheba
  12. Matsi Modise
  13. Khanyi Dhlomo
Prev1 of 14

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

[Infographic] The World’s Most Influential Female Entrepreneurs

Numerous women have enjoyed massive success with the businesses that they started. Some of these are profiled in the infographic below from All Finance Tax.

Colette Cassidy

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jk-rowling

Managing your own business is not easy. Unless you’re willing to stop at nothing to make the business succeed and unless you can balance supreme self-confidence with the cool, analytical head to know the risk that’s a risk too far, your entrepreneurial sojourn will almost certainly be brief and disastrous.

If you can set up your own company and keep it operational for at least several years, you will have proven that you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Even if you don’t turn over a massive profit from the company, being able to stand on your own two feet with self-made earnings is an achievement.

Then there are those whose businesses more than just survive. They grow into multimillion-dollar international enterprises which could make the owners world famous. One such example is JK Rowling. Granted, she might not fit the stereotype of a business owner, but she turned her passion into her life’s work and earned a fortune because of it. Like many entrepreneurs, she had an idea which took her from being in financial distress to owning a globally-recognised brand, namely the Harry Potter series.

Her story is an inspiration to female entrepreneurs everywhere, as the corporate world is still thought of as a male-dominated environment. That perception is rather misleading, though, as numerous women have enjoyed massive success with the businesses that they started. Some of these are profiled in the infographic below from All Finance Tax.

the-worlds-most-influential-female-entrepreneurs-infographic

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

 

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