Bridging the New Digital Gap - Women and ICT in South Africa

By Tashline Jooste, Chief Executive Officer of the Innovator Trust on 09 Oct 18

Bridging the New Digital Gap - Women and ICT in South Africa

Through personal experiences, I realised that the youth require the skills of computer literacy to thrive as a citizen of a digital era. However, there is a generation in South Africa who have not had the privilege of access to technology, don’t know how computers work, and don’t fully grasp technology’s significant impact on today’s society.

With the exciting emergence of the digital age, the ICT sector holds many opportunities for young entrepreneurs to build successful future SMMEs. However, being an entrepreneur (and, in particular, being a young, black, female entrepreneur) in South Africa is not without its challenges.

South Africa is currently facing severe economic conditions and a massive unemployment issue, with the unemployment rate among young South Africans under the age of 25 sitting at a frightening 67.4%. And, simply put, we as a country are not providing enough infrastructure support and skills development for black-owned SMMEs.

The challenges facing SMMEs within the ICT sector have to do with a combination of the lack of access to evolving technologies, lack of access to potential clients, and a lack of education and skills development. More can (and should) be done in South Africa for the youth who do not have access to the relevant skills development, infrastructure, and technology. 

Gender should not define who delivers what or directs what

Over and above the issues of access and skills development, gender disparity in the ICT sector is a real issue, one that I have faced first-hand. In the ICT environment, however, the most obvious challenge I encountered was that of gender, specifically the way that women are viewed by their counterparts. I faced the stereotype that, as a mother or wife, a woman is unable to commit successfully to business as well. I found myself having to constantly prove my worth and ability. But I love a good challenge, and I found that this issue was best addressed by displaying knowledge and confidence in one’s own ability.

That being said, I believe that gender equality must be addressed for the economy to experience the true potential that entrepreneurs have to offer. It’s a scary fact that since 2005 we have experienced a downward spiral with regards to women holding key positions. Look at various company’s boards - some progress is showing, but there is still a long way to go.

It is increasingly difficult for female entrepreneurs to make a success of their businesses. This is not because they lack the skills or the acumen to succeed, but often because they have more responsibilities than their male counterparts.

However, it is important to note that these gaps also present valuable and sustainable opportunities for black female ICT professionals and entrepreneurs. For example, many companies have now begun to add more black and female-owned companies to their preferred supplier lists. These businesses actively seek their services over those of more established service providers to support the industry and make a meaningful social impact.

Women have great entrepreneurial spirits, and that is why it is important for incubators to provide South African women with the necessary support to flourish through training, mentorship and skills development. Concrete business acumen, a sustainable and workable business model are crucial elements in the success of black female-owned SMMEs in the ICT sector.

Bridging the digital divide

At the Innovator Trust, we see the massive potential of a small business with a unique selling proposition, and an entrepreneur at the helm with a big dream. Established in 2014, we aim to support the growth of small black-owned ICT businesses in South Africa and to help develop competent SMMEs in South Africa. We do this through mentorship, skills exchange training and infrastructure support. We have partnered with companies who have experience and knowledge in this field to help us grow SMME entrepreneurship and make a real impact in the ICT SMME sector. Because of the high standards and strong demands of this industry, we have employed strict entry criteria to ensure that the SMMEs we invest our resources and mentorship in are viable and have real profit potential.

In 2017, the Innovator Trust had successfully incubated 60 SMMEs, of which 28 were female entrepreneurs.

We have also recently launched the Youth Entrepreneurial Programme (YEP) with Vodacom, which has allowed us to equip 10 Vodacom graduates with the requisite set of skills to needed by successful entrepreneurs. The programme aims to drive innovative thinking and create jobs that can bring significant change to the local economy.

Our programme is having a significant impact on the industry as we continue to enable highly-skilled black female business owners and entrepreneurs to succeed. And by helping to create role models in this sector, we hope that their passion and perseverance will spread to others.

Stand tall, climb with confidence

We have found that there are phenomenal women in ICT standing tall against all adversities. They are able to encourage, motivate and uplift - not just other women, but all those around them. Given the chance, they show that they truly can deliver the same - if not better - success than their counterparts.

To all the young women building careers in ICT today, I urge you - never apologise for being you. Don’t allow anyone to define who you are based on your gender. Always be mindful that there will be some walls you will have to climb - and climb them with confidence!