Why South Africa needs more women in STEM?

Date Published: 20-08-2019 | Author: Sigourney Bruintjies

Career fields stemming from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’s (STEM) are the driving force behind innovation and the technological transformation the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises.

South Africa currently has a critical skills shortage and the key to resolving this is to ensure that the country is geared up for the digital age and increasing the number of women educated and employed in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths field. When considering the South African job market and the skills set requirements, eight out of ten scarce-skills occupations are STEM related and demand for technical skills and innovation capacity will only escalate with the rise of the digital economy driven by rapid advances in the Fourth Industrial Revolution technology.

Why does it matter for women to be represented in STEM?

In South Africa, only 13% of graduates in STEM fields are women, despite South Africa being ranked 19th out of 144 countries in the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report. STEM skills are the foundation which the country’s development and future prosperity is built.

Encouraging girls and young women into STEM education and training would not only decrease the shortage of scarce and critical skills but will also strengthen women’s economic empowerment by shifting them from vulnerable positions in low-skilled and informal jobs to the stability of the formal economy. STEM education is strategically important due to its contribution of skills to the primary and secondary sectors of the South African economy. The sectors being agriculture, mining, manufacturing, utilities and construction. The aforementioned sectors contribute 30% of gross output and account for 30% of employment in South Africa.

As the reader, you might ask yourself “Why does it matter so much for women to have equal representation in STEM fields?”. STEM career fields are at the forefront of innovation. Women deserve a seat at the table which creates our future. It is crucial that women are a part of the research and development where women are barely represented in STEM work.

The way forward for South African females

Emphasis needs to be placed on South Africa not having enough women in STEM careers, not only for representation but also to influence, share experiences and stories that can inspire young girls into STEM career fields. There are many ways South Africa can tackle this problem. In order for the young to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, activities such as the following should be implemented:

  • Site visits;
  • Job Shadowing;
  • Involvement in problem solving platforms such as Hackathons and;
  • Exposure and encouragement to digital skills.

Women are the greatest resource any country has. It was said by Ainissa Ramirez, Science Evangelist, that if creativity is the secret sauce to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths then women have the intellect and soft skills to innovate. All women need is encouragement and opportunities in Science and Engineering, this is one of the most powerful manner of harnessing this resource for the development of South Africa.