South Africa needs to encourage young girls to consider technology as a career option if the country is going to address key issues like the current skills shortage in the IT sector and spiralling levels of youth unemployment. 
That’s the word from Thuli Sibeko, the organiser of the South African Girls in ICT event, being held today (25 April) to commemorate International Girls in ICT day. Now in its fourth year, the event aims to inspire girls to consider a future in technology, with more than 130 schoolgirls expected to attend a conference with leading women in the local ICT sector.
Sibeko, the MD of Anglo African Events, says the technology sector offers “an extraordinary opportunity” for girls and young women to forge successful careers in a field where there are expected to be two million more ICT jobs than there are professionals to fill them in the next 10 years.
“In a country where there are millions of unemployed young people, it’s important to break the existing stereotypes that technology careers are ‘too hard’ for girls, or ‘unfeminine’ or even ‘boring’,” Sibeko says. “Education and skills training – and a change in attitudes – are vital to ensure women are not left behind.”
ICT jobs are consistently ranked among the top 20 careers with the best pay and best long-term prospects, and the technology industry remains one of the world’s most robust sectors, creating strong ongoing demand for young tech professionals.
However, the number of schoolgirls opting to study technology-related disciplines is on the decline in many countries. The reasons for this include misguided school-age career counselling, the media’s ‘geek’ image of the technology field and a dearth of inspirational female role models.
To counter this, the event brings together local female role models like TV presenter and speaker Pippa Tshabalala, mobile guru Palesa Sibeko, application developer Mokgaetsi Madise, Ntokozo Ncongwane, Business development manager at Intel Corporation South Africa and HP consultant Tsoanelo Takaendesa.
The keynote speaker will be the Marketing and Operations marketing lead of Microsoft South Africa, Melanie Botha.
Sibeko sketches a powerful vision of bringing together NGOs, universities, government agencies and the local technology industry to develop more successful approaches to attracting girls to the technology field.
This year, more than 100 Girls in ICT Day events are expected to be held in more than 70 countries.
These events extend invitations to teenage girls and university students to spend the day at the offices of ICT companies, government agencies or academic institutions and to meet with female role models working in the technology field, to give them a better appreciation of the many exciting opportunities available in the ICT sector.
“Technology needs girls to help invent the future,” says Sibeko. “Stereotypes of girls represent them as less interested in subjects like mathematics and science. This reduces their access to jobs with better pay or markets that may offer better opportunities.”