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WATCH: ‘That job’s not for little girls’ - women still fighting for their place in STEM jobs

Decades of progress have been achieved by women and allies; despite this, they still lag in STEM. Pictures: David McNeese

Decades of progress have been achieved by women and allies; despite this, they still lag in STEM. Pictures: David McNeese

Published Jun 6, 2022

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Plenty of women are needed in science, technology, engineering and maths, yet they represent less than a quarter in some of these areas.

A mix of gender stereotypes plus major gender pay gaps, amongst other concerning issues, continue to hold the gates closed to young women wanting to enter the male-dominated STEM professions.

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These professions, how they stand at present, certainly do not represent the demographics of this world. And while decades of progress have been achieved by women and allies; they still lag in STEM professions when compared to men, and young girls are still steered away these professions.

WATCH: First Mexican-born woman engineer in space pushes for more diversity.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund’s (Unicef)’ “Mapping gender equality in STEM from school to work” by Andaleeb Alam, globally 18 percent of girls in tertiary education are pursuing STEM studies — compared to 35 percent of boys.

Even within the STEM fields, there lies a gender divide, with similar numbers of boys and girls pursuing natural sciences while far more boys looked to engineering, manufacturing and construction. Gender discrimination and bias at work also discourage women from entering or remaining in STEM jobs, says Unicef.

Overall, and not just in STEM careers — although this is evident there - the gender pay gap for the same work is discouraging. Despite the hours they put in, when it comes to careers, women still earn less than men doing the same job, have fewer leadership positions, or simply have no seat at the proverbial table.

In technology, for instance, women currently hold only 19 percent of tech-related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies. In leadership positions at these global tech giants, women make up 28 percent, with men representing 72 percent.

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Chief economist for PwC Africa, Lullu Krugel, says the technology sector is exciting, and fast-moving, yet disappointingly, many women prefer to steer clear of careers in technology.

According to careers website CareerJunction, women are, in fact, more educated than men when comparing tertiary education. Only about 51 percent of men have diplomas or higher compared to 59 percent of women. However, it is a well-known fact that in many countries young girls are denied formal education.

So what can be done? Let’s start at the gender representation and pay gap: If we close the gender gap in both representation and pay gap by just 10 percent, South Africa could achieve higher economic growth, says PwC.

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Another hurdle that women face is being forced to shoulder the majority of child care.

“Over a third of South African women feel that their gender and parental responsibilities are holding them back from advancing in their careers,” says CareerJunction.

Added to that, gender stereotypes — where young girls are less likely than young boys to be encouraged to, for example code, also has an impact.

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According to developer job marketplace OfferZen’s State of the Developer Nation 2019 report, the earlier developers start coding, the more they earn.

Male developers apparently tend to start coding significantly earlier than female developers. By the time they were 18, over 50 percent of the men had started coding while only 33 percent of the women had.

The Unicef study also shows that lack of self-confidence, networks, market access and finance are common pain points, as is lower female mentorship. Gender biases in tech incubators and accelerators pose a further barrier. Investor perceptions also reflect gender biases.

However, all is not lost. Progress is being made. Baratang Miya, the founder of GirlHYPE: Women who code agrees: "Innovation by women is starting to be taken seriously, the tech space is starting to accept us.“

Watch this space.

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