Not enough women enter STEM careers

Vodacom seeks to address the gender digital gap in South Africa through a programme aimed at girls.

The Vodacom Code Like A Girl programme, according to the company’s human resources director, Njabulo Mashigo, aims to address the under-representation of girls and women in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Vodacom wants to address the under-representation of women and girls in STEM education and careers, and we’ve seen the immense difference Code Like A Girl makes to these girls, which is why we are building on the programme each year,” says Njabulo.

She says the gender disparity in STEM is alarming, especially because these are the jobs of the future.

“By teaching high school girls how to code, we’re opening their eyes to sequential thinking around problem-solving, and stimulating creativity and design skills.

“As part of our Vision 2025 strategy, Vodacom is on a journey to becoming a technology company, or ‘techco’, from a telecommunications operator, or ‘telco’. We believe that by planting a seed now, we are preparing our industry for a technology-ready future. Girls need encouragement because traditionally, they aren’t thought of as innovators. With the right skills and a confidence boost, girls will feel empowered to aim for the skies – whether that’s literally as pilots or astronauts, or as software developers, engineers, statisticians, or architects,” Njabulo adds.

Vodacom plans to train 1,500 young girls in coding in this financial year, bringing the number of girls trained through this programme to 4,000 since 2017.

Not only does it help develop coding, but the programme also teaches girls valuable life skills under the guidance of accomplished mentors who are passionate about technology, which includes developing presentation and communication skills.

Coding is defined as the process of transforming ideas, solutions, and instructions into the language that the computer can understand, using programming languages like JavaScript, Java, C/C++, or Python to act as the translator between humans and machines.

High school learners will, during a two-week long training course, be exposed to computer languages, robotics and development programmes including HTML, CSS, GitHub and Version control, Bootstrap and JavaScript, Basic Computer and Introduction to Coding.

By the end of the programme, each of the girls will be able to develop their own websites and present their work to the rest of their coding class.

“The world is becoming increasingly reliant on digital technology, which is why coding skills are so prized. With digital transformation, we are seeing a higher demand for jobs with STEM skills, such as coding. Median wages in STEM careers are more than double that of non-STEM occupations. STEM careers are also expected to grow at more than double the rate of other occupations soon,” says Njabulo.

“Most people aren’t aware that half of all computer programming positions are in industries such as finance, healthcare, and manufacturing.”

She says coding has become such a critical skill that it elevates a candidate’s chances not only of landing positions but also of commanding higher salaries.