Empowering Women’s Futures: Nurturing Girls’ Passion for STEM and Sustaining Support Across Their Careers

Girls in Tech
By Megan Clunnie -Technology Divisional Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa at Mastercard

Over the past decade, significant strides have been made in empowering women and young girls to pursue careers in Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields, particularly in the technology sector. From grassroots initiatives to global programs, efforts have been directed towards breaking down barriers and fostering inclusivity in traditionally male-dominated industries. As we reflect on this journey of empowerment, we need to celebrate the wins, while acknowledging that there is still more that we can do, to ensure a greater representation of women in STEM fields. 

Transforming attitudes and approaches to achieve inclusive leadership

Things are improving. The share of women and underrepresented minorities in the global STEM workforce increased between 2011 and 2021, however, men still make up the greater share. In 2021, about two-thirds (65%) of those employed in STEM occupations were men. 

A desire to equalize the industry motivated a woman-leader like Susan Warner, founder of the Girls4Tech programme, to start an initiative of this calibre. Through Susan’s intervention young girls have been made aware of the possibilities and opportunities available to them within STEM workplaces, and this education continues to contribute to changing the way they view the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

In South Africa, the latest available research shows that only 13% of graduates in STEM are women. Looking at other African countries, the figures are similar with female graduates making up roughly 12% of all graduates in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, 13% in Rwanda and 6% in Mozambique (World Bank, 2020), in comparison with 30% of STEM students in higher education globally. A mere 30% of scientific researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa are women, and less than 30% of these are engineering graduates.

Creating awareness of STEM and igniting dreams in young girls

One significant avenue for promoting gender diversity in tech is through educational outreach programs aimed at young girls. These initiatives play a pivotal role in creating awareness and inspiring future generations of women to pursue careers in technology. By challenging traditional gender norms and highlighting the myriad of opportunities available in tech fields like software development, cybersecurity, and scientific research, these programs inspire young girls to envision themselves as leaders in the tech industry.

The Mastercard Girls4Tech program is celebrating ten years of showing young girls the opportunities available to them in STEM careers. Over the years, this program has evolved from a simple curriculum to a comprehensive platform that nurtures and mentors many young girls from their formative years through to their entry into the workforce. Starting with foundational concepts like algorithms, data privacy, and digital convergence, the syllabus has expanded to include innovative topics such as artificial intelligence and cryptology, aligning itself with the ever-evolving landscape of technology. In 2023, our engagements and initiatives reached more than 765 girls across South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, through STEM workshops aimed at inspiring girls to pursue science and engineering related careers.

What sets Girls4Tech apart is its comprehensive approach towards empowering young girls globally. Mastercard aspires to be the employer, brand, and partner of choice for women, so we understand that it is not just about imparting technical knowledge but also about instilling confidence, nurturing leadership skills, and fostering a growth mindset. By providing workplace experiences and mentorship opportunities, the program ensures that the young girls we inspire are not only equipped with the requisite skills, but also with skills that will assist them to better navigate the tech industry in the future. Mastercard is committed to growing the Girl4Tech program across Sub-Saharan Africa, bringing the program to more countries and reaching more girls to show them there are great opportunities for them outside of the traditionally followed careers. 

Taking intentional steps to support and empower female employees

Despite the progress made, women still face various obstacles and biases in the workplace. From unequal opportunities to lack of representation in leadership roles, there are still systemic issues that need to be addressed to prevent the stagnation of women’s career growth. 

Tech organizations must foster a culture in which the gender-balanced leadership is promoted and equal opportunities for advancement are provided. This culture promotes career development initiatives and opportunities that are meaningful for women. Visibility and representation matters. Women need to see themselves reflected in leadership positions and industry roles. By displaying diverse role models and highlighting success stories, we can inspire the next generation of female leaders in tech. 

Skills development also helps women to effectively navigate the challenges of the workplace and seize opportunities for growth. Beyond technical skills, there is a need to focus on soft skills development, such as communication, assertiveness, and leadership. In addition, by encouraging women to assert their boundaries, and advocate for themselves in the workplace, they will feel empowered and comfortable to prioritize tasks strategically and focus on high-impact projects that can help them demonstrate their value and accelerate their career growth.

Women’s impact on the tech sector and society at large

Boosting the representation of women in technology not only challenges entrenched gender roles and stereotypes but also initiates broader societal shifts towards greater gender inclusivity. In our ever more digital and technology-driven world, nations that fully leverage their talent pool, encompassing women, gain a competitive edge in the global tech sector, and see increases in the country’s economic growth. In fact, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. 

Women constitute a significant segment of the population. By bolstering their involvement in the tech industry, South Africa can access a larger pool of talent, fostering heightened innovation, productivity, and economic prosperity. Encouraging more women to pursue careers in technology also addresses the scarcity of skilled workers, ensuring the industry’s sustained growth.

Moreover, women bring diverse perspectives, experiences, and problem-solving approaches to the table. Enhancing gender diversity and balance within tech teams catalyses the development of more innovative solutions and products tailored to a wider spectrum of users.

Committed to creating diverse and inclusive spaces fit for women

Ultimately, empowering women in tech leadership requires a concerted effort from both organizations and individuals alike. At Mastercard we are committed to creating a space that promotes diversity and inclusion, with a single-minded focus on women, because women everywhere still face inequality and exclusion. 

As an organization we are aware that equality is not a women’s issue, it is a business issue, therefore gender equality is essential for individuals, businesses, communities, and economies to thrive. Hence the reason we have made gender equality a central, guiding theme, not only in our diversity and inclusion efforts and hiring practices, but in our business strategy in general.

In conclusion, the journey toward balanced gender representation in STEM is a continuous effort. It is a shared responsibility that requires relentless pursuit and unwavering commitment. Let us continue to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and create a future where women in STEM can not only participate but lead and excel. Together, we can forge a path that not only celebrates the achievements of women in technology but also paves the way for a future rich in diversity, innovation, and equal opportunity for all.

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