Getting with IT

Date: January 1, 1970
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Mirriam Zwane, one of the founders and shareholders of Praxis Computing, knows the importance of the full participation of black people, especially women, in information and communication technology (ICT). Praxis, a Proudly South African company, has a proud track record of black and women economic empowerment.

Current shareholding includes 31% African female ownership and it achieved 51% black ownership in January 2007. Overall, the company is made up of over 70% black people and 46% women from a broad background.  Many began their start in Information Technology (IT) through Praxis internships, learnerships and hands-on mentorship programmes.
There is a low participation of women in ICT in South Africa. As a result, women are missing the increasing number of technology-related job opportunities. It is important that women are in positions to influence and direct the ICT sector, which constitutes a central directive force in social development and economic growth. 
Moreover, the ICT industry is losing the talent of skilled women who can offer a diversity of thought and perspective. Without women as an integral part of the workforce, the ICT industry is bereft of many potential contributors.
To help address these imbalances, Zwane started a training centre at her home, as also runs the Bayibule Project, which aims to help underprivileged communities by providing IT training.  According to Zwane, the project is helping women get into the ICT industry by empowering them with skills. “I believe in changing peoples lives by participating and working beyond the call of duty, without simply donating money and moving away.”
Zwane herself started in the IT business at 1989, after being offered a position to train as a trainer on desktop packages. However, most of the IT staff and trainers were older white men, and this meant discrimination based on gender and race. Though she had few resources at the time, she started learning new packages by her own, with a combination of observation and personal contacts.
Once she married and had four children, she did not let motherhood vanish her career goals,. She juggled being a wife, a mother and a professional. She enjoyed what she was doing, worked hard, developed and excelled in her job. She gained recognition, and held various management positions.
Ngwanamatloa Matloa is one of those black women empowered by the Bayibule project and by Praxis. After being trained through that network, in 2004 she had an intern position with Praxis where she improved her IT skills. She went on to become an Implement Consultant at Front Range Solutions, where she is learning about other industries through the various clients she is supporting. Matloa credits her time at Praxis with helping her to achieve her career goals. “I am glad of the opportunity I had with the internship, it really empowered me and helped me move on with my career in a very good position.”
The South African government has adopted a strong gender approach in many of its policies and implementation strategies. The reality however, is that in many of technology sectors, and particularly in the ICT sector, government and business must do much more to encourage girls and women to pursue careers in this direction.
Natasha Dika is a communications officer with Emitech. This article, produced during a GL “Business Unusual” training workshop, is part of a South Africa Women’s Day series by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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