Nelson Mandela is famously quoted as saying: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”
More than a decade and a half of democracy in South Africa, however, has revealed that this dream is not easily attained and there is still much ground to cover in the ICT industry (for one) before it becomes reality.
While there are many governmental and private structures in place to bring about equal opportunity for all people, there is still disparity between the number of men occupying top management positions in the ICT industry and the number of women. An indicator of this is seen in the Brainstorm CIO Directory 2011. Of the 153 CIOs listed in the Directory, only 18 (roughly ten percent) are women.
Says Sarita Visser, CIO for FNB Commercial Banking: “Women make up more than half of the South African population and are increasingly becoming the primary contributors to its economy. I have to admit that the statistic [of fewer female CIOs than male] is apparent every time I attend industry forums or seminars.
“[Historically], the IT industry in many ways lent itself to positions or career paths typically favoured by males. Some roles in IT were more ‘suitable’ for men to have pursued as their chosen career path, which obviously influences the selection pool for leadership. Women typically took on roles such as business analysis, testing and programming, [and men] jobs in the infrastructure domain, such as networks, laying of cables, etc.”
Visser does note that steps are being taken to bring parity.
“In some way, it feels that the actual statistic does not tie up to all the efforts that have been, and are being, poured into workplace diversity. I do observe that executive gender shifts are happening throughout the corporate world. However, IT is lagging the curve.”
In conjunction with current efforts, Visser advocates genderless, merit-based appointments in the IT industry.
Track records“I believe achievement and track record speak for themselves. In addition to that, personality and work style profiles are important factors for consideration when leadership appointments are being made. All these factors… are genderless.”
Speaking of her appointment as CIO for FNB Commercial Banking and previous positions she’s held, she notes: “In my case, I was the most suitable candidate for the job at the time. I do think, however, that ‘assertiveness’ should be a focus area for female leadership development, specifically considering the male/female ratio in the IT industry. To my knowledge, many companies are starting to deploy tailored executive programmes aimed at achieving specific outcomes and targets, of which increasing the entry of women into executive leadership roles could be one.”
As for FNB Corporate Banking, Visser is clear it is doing its part towards promoting women: “We have a specific strategy in place to attract women in terms of equity targets and targeted development. We identify the right candidates with potential, and we enable them, via appropriate interventions, to acquire the competence and skills for the next level. With regards to IT specifically, we make a concerted effort to develop and promote women fitting the profile.”
Palesa Sepanya, IS operations manager for PetroSA, adopts an assertive approach to women in the industry while taking a hard look at the current status quo.
Says Sepanya: “Decision-makers still don’t trust women to be technically capable of leading. Women desperately need to start marketing themselves and acknowledging their technical abilities. We tend to believe that our ‘good job’ will speak for us and draw attention to us, but the reality is it doesn’t. So let us make some noise about our achievements.”
Speaking in broad strokes about a roadmap towards a balanced ICT Industry, Sepanya says there are steps to be taken: “We cannot expect product when nothing was sowed. If everything remains constant, the number of women in leadership positions in IT will always be in relation to how many women were in the industry 20 years ago. Without drastic interventions and accelerated development, the battle is lost.”
Sepanya is clear that it is not simply about satisfying quotas to maintain economic empowerment accreditation, but rather a deep-rooted means towards real and meaningful human resource. “Paying lip-service to the challenges will not resolve the issues. Institutions need to be collectively committed to engaging women in IT and keeping them. They can do this by actively exposing women to the developmental opportunities that will lead to IT executive positions.”
As part of their awareness of the current climate, PetroSA is engaging women, Sepanya notes. “Efforts to increase women representation across all levels within PetroSA, including IT, have been intensified, with targeted employment of women pursued.”
The futureOn a broader scale, she also notes that other institutions are picking up the ball. “There are interventions such as the ‘Leadership in Oil and Energy programme’, offered by Wits Business School, which aims to develop women, including those in IT, into higher executive positions,” she says.
There is varied opinion surrounding equity policies at all levels of business and government. A look at the faces leading the industry suggests ICT is falling behind in gender equality. As a way forward, Visser suggests: “Harness the value of diversity. Women bring a whole wealth of differences along with them, and introduce different elements of leadership at the executive table.”