The embracing of citizen developers by the IT industry could herald significant changes to the development of South Africa’s digital future.
However, the question is whether this future will involve more women. Ideally, says Joanna Baidu, sub-Saharan Africa youth lead at Project Management Institute (PMI), citizen development could well be the key to attracting more women to use their experience and build applications through cloud-based, no code or low-code platforms.
International Girls in ICT Day draws attention to the critical need for more inclusivity in the tech sector. This year the focus is on safe and reliable access to the internet and digital tools.
Inclusion in the tech sector has been a long-standing conversation with varied opinions and different perspectives. Achieving this though relies heavily on employers’ intent on developing both grassroot and in-house technical skills of women and men to fill existing gaps.
According to Women in Tech ZA, only 23% of tech jobs are held by women in South Africa – out of 236 000 ICT (tech) roles, women occupy 56 000 of them.
On the back of connected devices, the citizen development movement has spurred innovation of software development. As simple to use of MS Office tools, the low code, no code tech has companies turning to it for fast app development and deployment. The arrival of citizen developers has alleviated the pressure on IT and complements people with formal IT qualifications that are involved in coding and core programming.
In South Africa, where there is a shortage of technical skills, citizen development could boost the local economy if more women entered the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Going the citizen developer route can also encourage more interest in tech and increase participation of women in these critical areas.
McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) says that if every government helped its citizens catch up to the country in its region that has made the fastest strides toward gender parity, the total annual payoff in additional GDP could reach $12-trillion in 2025.
The key to advancing interest in technical careers by women, who make up just over 50% of South Africa’s population, is for organisations, schools, and tertiary institutions to actively promote the range of careers available in the technology world.
“It is also about changing mindset. Digital transformation sounds dramatic, but it doesn’t just belong to IT. Citizen development is that empowering tool; that lets everyone in the organisation contribute to the movement,” says Baidu.
According to the World Economic Forum, four out of five local women are lagging in maths and statistics, two out of five in ICT and technology, as well three out of 10 in engineering, manufacturing, and construction, and other technical fields. In South Africa, men with STEM-related degrees outnumber women.
PMI believes that structured citizen development programmes that open the IT development field to everyone including women will equally help companies. The introduction of citizen development can help bridge the talent gap and accelerate digital transformation as everyone can contribute to tech solutions without learning to code.
Encouraging employee participation in technology development must not come at the cost of security lapses, data breaches and governance risks. Citizen development efforts must comply with security standards and be guided by a governance strategy that sets requirements for secure applications to be created outside the IT function.
“On the positive side, more technically aware and enabled people in the workplace will undoubtedly contribute to reinforced awareness and safer operational procedures. This means that employee knowledge about company needs can be capitalised on to produce enhanced outputs,” says Baidu.
The potential for well-governed, corporate-driven citizen development is unlimited. Helping women develop new skills and thereby reducing the traditional gender gaps through structured citizen development programmes can advance a company’s market performance and profitability.
“Technology is an increasingly important part of our daily lives. Movements like citizen development must be supported and fostered across organisations and educational institutions so women and girls get an early start. The prospect of artificial intelligence having the same gender biases as humans can turn into a reality if we don’t encourage more inclusivity in ICT,” concludes Baidu