The imbalance between men and women in the science and technology sector is unlikely to be remedied unless organisations, schools and universities work together to change entrenched perceptions about the tech industry.
According to PwC, in South Africa the proportion of females to males who graduate with STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees is out of kilter. As a result, there is a significantly smaller pool of female STEM talent, restricting the potential of South Africa’s technology sector.
Dr Ritu Bhagwandeen, a chemistry lecturer at the Central University of Technology’s Welkom campus, has dedicated her life's work to assist in closing this gender gap.
Although the science and techno-logy sector has made advances to include women and embrace their contribution to the sector, she believes that more can definitely still be done.
Dr Bhagwandeen, who is also departmental manager; Mathematics, Science & Technology Education Welkom Faculty of Humanities, says although men and women bring their own uniqueness to the sector more can still be done to open up the sector for women.
“We have not transformed the sector enough at the same time I believe that no one should be elevated because of their gender. A woman is an individual and should give her best but being a woman should not in any way affect their progress. That is my motto,” she says.
She believes however that anyone coming into the sector should be ready to give it their all.
“If you are a person who takes shortcut then this is not the sector for you. There is no easy route to achieving something. It takes dedication, discipline, drive and hard work and dignity,” she declares.
Dr Bhagwandeen reveals that her aspirations for the sector is seeing young people being trained in science and technology.
“For me it goes beyond just bringing women into the sector, it is about bringing young minds. It is really immaterial which gender makes a contribution to the sector because each gender brings their uniqueness to the table,” she says.
Dr Bhagwandeen is originally from India and was one of eight children in her family and says a women’s independence and education were held in high regard by her academic parents.
“We were taught that a woman has to be educated and independent so that is important for me. As a woman once you have studied you should be financially and emotionally independent. You must not depend on a man to do things for you,” she asserts.