By Isme Oosthuizen
WOMEN remain a largely untapped resource in the technology talent pool in South Africa. The statistics don’t lie: there are only 56 000 women filling 236 000 Information and Communications Technology (ICT) roles in the country. That is 23 percent.
We fare even worse in emerging technology roles, such as cloud computing, and data and AI, with only 14 percent female participation in professional cloud computing and 28 percent in data and AI.
Perhaps even more concerning is the lack of female talent filtering into the pipeline. For every two women who graduate with a STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree in South Africa, there are five males making their way into the industry.
These numbers are a wake-up call. They indicate a smaller pool of female talent – and a clear need to encourage girls to pursue careers in technology, as well as improve the representation of women in the workplace to unlock the potential of South Africa’s technology sector, and the broader economy in general.
Research has shown that greater gender diversity drives performance, and leads to higher productivity and profit. BCG’s own research of female leaders in the technology sector revealed that even adding just one woman to a company’s board or management team shows an increase in return on assets of between eight and 13 basis points, while organisations where 30 percent of leaders are female enjoy a 15 percent increase in profitability.
Another study found that businesses that use female talent effectively are 45 percent more likely to report improved market share.
However, the issue of women representation in what is a typically male environment is part of a bigger conversation around the importance of diversity. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is increasingly becoming a business imperative because of the value it adds to the bottom line: cognitively diverse teams solve problems 60 percent faster, and drive financial performance.
Companies with above-average total diversity have been found to have both 19 percentage points higher innovation revenues and 9 percentage points higher Ebit (earnings before interest and taxes) margins.
Shifting from awareness to action
What this illustrates is that businesses today must shift from awareness to action in creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Being diverse and inclusive means bringing together different types of thinking and talent to drive innovation and creative problem-solving through diverse points of view.
But more than that, it means creating an enabling environment where people are able to do their best work because they feel their point of view and voices are heard and valued. And this is proving to be particularly important in South Africa.
South Africans researched as part of our study on Decoding Global Ways of Working, in partnership with The Network and local affiliate CareerJunction, were found to care more about diversity than the global average. Eighty-two percent of South Africans said that diversity and inclusion had become more important to them in the past year, compared to 68.7 percent globally.
Diversity and inclusion was also particularly meaningful to the country’s young people, with 87 percent saying D&I had become more important to them in the past year. Half of the South African respondents overall would even refuse to work for an employer that does not match their beliefs in this area.
The growing value of diversity and inclusion is further backed up by a BCG report on the most innovative companies of 2021, which showed that companies in the top 50 tended to exhibit higher gender and ethnic diversity in their leadership. This included leaders in the technology sector too, like Microsoft, Alibaba and Cisco.
All of these are examples of the overwhelming importance of prioritising diversity, particularly in the technology sector.
Diversity is only going to get more critical for companies going forward – and it is going to become a non-negotiable for businesses to actively show that we are working to create workplaces that are both diverse and inclusive, and which bridge the gaps that currently exist.
Isme Oosthuizen is an associate director at BCG Platinion
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites