Eighteen months after the launch of its WomenThinkCode= initiative, WeThinkCode_ has achieved its target of recruiting at least 50% women in its student intake. The success of this groundbreaking initiative reflects an intentional effort to identify and recruit talented women into the academy. “
“We are pleased that we are able to play a tangible role in driving inclusion within South Africa’s digital sector. Women are taking a seat at the tech table,” says Nyari Samushonga, CEO WeThinkCode_.
“Technology is driving growth and innovation in many of the most important sectors of the economy, and these young developers will be at the centre of this economic activity.
Gone are the days when software developers were a forgotten cost centre relegated to the basement. Whether we are looking at financial services, health, education or agriculture, all of these sectors are being driven by technology,” she says.
Across WeThinkCode_’s campuses there is a marked increase in the number of young women, many of them drawn from demographics that have not previously enjoyed access to the digital sector.
Samushonga believes that WeThinkCode_ is creating a replicable blueprint to counteract the structural exclusion that women in the tech sector have traditionally faced.
“WeThinkCode_ is committed to driving transformation. Technology has the potential to drive much needed economic growth in South Africa. It’s been exciting to watch the intake of women come into their own as developers. Their aptitude and innovation will bring much needed talent to an industry that has a considerable shortage of quality skills,” Samushonga says.
“Building inclusive technology teams is not just the ethically correct thing to do, it is good business. Representation is important. When we’re solving problems, we need women to bring their experience and address issues from their perspective,” she adds.
Gender parity milestone
From a low of 6% women in its first intake in 2016, WeThinkCode reached 17% in 2019. The WomenThinkCode= initiative was launched in 2019 to drive the recruitment of women and increase their retention within the programme. This year, the academy will welcome 233 women onto its campuses in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. This milestone of gender parity is worth celebrating given the historical bias towards male recruits.
“The Covid 19 pandemic has accelerated the rate at which our world is being digitised. Because of the far-reaching influence of technology, captains of the industry now concede that no matter what business you are in, you’re also in the tech business,” Samushonga says.
“With today’s world being shaped by technology, it is imperative that the hearts and minds that build that technology should be fully representative of our world’s citizens. This is why we believe in the inclusion of women in tech,” she adds.
Women walking the path
Feedback from WeThinkCode_ graduates speaks volumes about the power of women in tech, “I see WeThinkCode_ as a bag full of treats,” says Prudence Mahlangu, a WeThinkCode_ graduate. “It prepared me extremely well for how to become a successful new software engineer by helping me with my confidence, impeccable technical and soft skills, and a job opportunity.”
Alyson Ngonyama agrees: “Attending WTC_ turned into the most life changing two years of my life. From being able to only get the odd admin job here and secretary gig there, I now have an expanding career as a software engineer and can aspire to be whatever I want to be in my future.”
Rocking industry perceptions
In 2019, WeThinkCode_ launched its WomenThinkCode= initiative in partnership with the Momentum Metropolitan Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Foundation and F-Secure. Samushonga explains: “ WomenThinkCode=’s objectives are to increase women’s participation in the WeThinkCode_ programme, to ensure retention during the two years and to make sure our women graduates get good jobs.
“With help from our great partners there’s no doubt we’re proving that women are more than up to the job. How we are rocking the industry can be seen in the results – to get to 50% women representation through the WomenThinkCode= programme in just 18 months means we are speaking the right language and women are hearing us! This makes us extremely excited about the future.”
Re-coding the future
“We are re-coding the future and the way society sees the role of women in technology. We want women to blaze a trail in ICT and to do that we have built a supportive community around our female students. All second-year students are mentored by industry experts. This helps support their transition from the learning environment to the workplace.”
“Partnerships are also very important in our quest to grow gender parity,” adds Samushonga, “The underrepresentation of women in any space is not an accident, it is a choice. Our choice is to include women. We are privileged to partner with organisations that are sponsoring positive transformation in the digital sector.”
Attitude and aptitude
So many South African women with the aptitude and attitude to succeed have had doors closed to them. This is where WeThinkCode_’s unique recruitment process is a game-changer. The academy’s selection tests are designed to identify high performing youth regardless of their prior education results.
Applicants are assessed for logic, analytical skills, teamwork and resilience. Focusing on traits that correlate to success in the training programme and disregarding traditional selection models like matric results has been key to inclusive recruitment.