As we commemorate International Women’s Day, let us reflect on the positive influence of mentoring a young woman in the workplace, which can enhance not only her professional development but also benefit the organisation as a whole, writes Anna Collard, senior vice-president: content strategy and evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa.

Whenever anybody achieves success, it’s important to remind yourself that they did not get there alone. The people who helped me get to where I am today, I remember them, – many of them male colleagues or superiors. I am deeply indebted to them for investing in me and believing in me. Without their help and support, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make the progress in the male-dominated IT industry.

It is quite fitting then that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is investing in women to accelerate progress. Despite the strides women have made over the years, such as gaining the right to vote and advocating for equal pay, many countries still marginalise women.

At the corporate level, women are equally capable of leading companies as men. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that women scored as well as men in leadership skills based on 360-degree assessments. However, it is noted that most women under 25 lack self-confidence, a trait that tends to self-correct by the age of 40.

Why do young women lack confidence in the workplace? Could it be because of low self-esteem and negative cultural stereotypes? Perhaps.

In South Africa, youth unemployment is one of the most pressing issues, with six out of 10 individuals aged 18 to 24 being unemployed. Paradoxically, many IT firms report a skills shortage. At KnowBe4, we pondered if there is a way to bridge the gap between those seeking jobs and those offering them.

Creating pathways out of poverty through digital skills

This led to the MiDO Cyber Academy. Established in 2023 by The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in partnership with KnowBe4 Africa and MiDO Technologies, MiDO Cybersecurity Academy is an Intern Readiness Programme aimed at underserved communities within the Western Cape in March 2023.

The academy’s goal is to offer pathways out of poverty by exposing young individuals to relevant training and work opportunities in the Cybersecurity industry, addressing the need for businesses to enhance their talent pool. In 2023, our first cohort of 21 graduates completed the program, with the majority being women.

The MiDO Academy’s focus is on cybersecurity training, with an emphasis on critical thinking, collaboration and innovation. We do not believe you need a three-year university degree to be employed in cybersecurity or the IT industry; curiosity and the right attitude are what truly count. Our training also emphasises soft skills like interviewing and public speaking, which are often lacking in candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds but are crucial for employability and navigating a corporate environment.

Mentoring and internships

Another key aspect of the MiDO Academy is mentoring. Each candidate is assigned a mentor who plays a crucial role in guiding them as they progress through the 10-month programme. After the programme is complete, the project team assists graduates in finding employment as interns in the IT industry.

If you are wondering how you can contribute, consider offering an internship to a young woman of colour in your workplace, providing them with an opportunity to succeed. Research shows that diverse and inclusive organisations are more successful and healthier than those that are not. If you have benefited from the help and support of others in your career advancement, it might be time to pay it forward and do the same for others.