“It’s incredible how male-dominated the industry is, and yet women absolutely THRIVE in technical careers.”
Those are the words of one Capetonian woman, Emma Dick, who’s made it her job to get more women into the field of coding, exposing them to the vast array of job opportunities available. But wait, what exactly is coding??
“Wherever there’s a computer, there’s a coder”, says Emma. “It’s basically a range of different digital languages that you use to tell a computer what to do, using a specific coding language based on what it is you want that computer to do.”
Essentially, a coder could be the person that designs a website, develops a brand new game or app, or even a robotics engineer. So the next question is, if women are so good at it, why are there so few of them in the field? This one’s slightly harder to answer and also has government officials scratching their heads. During this year’s National Science Week, there was a big drive from the Basic Education Department to encourage more girls to pursue STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-related careers. South Africa is currently facing a skills-shortage in these fields, with 8 of the top 10 scarce-skills occupations in the country being STEM-related.
According to Nthabiseng Moleko, a lecturer in economics and statistics at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, encouraging young women into STEM education and training would not only reduce the overall shortage of these critical skills, but also strengthen women’s economic empowerment by moving them from vulnerable positions in low-skilled and informal jobs to the stability of the formal economy. Moleko insists it’s time to reverse the growing gender wage gap in South Africa by addressing stereotypes of STEM-related careers as “men’s work”.
Earlier during Women’s Month, we reported on Cape Town’s Dutch Consul’s #Inspiring50 initiative, which aims to celebrate some of the country’s best female leaders in the STEM-sector. And that’s exactly what Emma’s been doing too.
She’s founded two organisations in particular, Code4CT – an extramural coding program for high school girls that’s helped over 600 learners so far; and CodeSpace – a social enterprise that seeks to bring coding courses to a broad population across South Africa.
Code4CT was built from the ground up, with help of donated hardware in the form of computers, mice and keyboards; while CodeSpace hosts free public events, providing a platform for successful females from the industry to inspire others to follow their own tech-dreams. It also wants to get everyone and anyone learning to code. Yesterday.
They’ve just launched a bursary for women and will soon be announcing a course specifically directed at already-established industry professionals who want to better understand and (de)code the future too.