Sheryl Sandberg ; Facebook COO and founder of Leanin.org said: “The word ‘female,’ when inserted in front of something, is always with a note of surprise. Female COO, female pilot, female surgeon — as if the gender implies surprise … One day there won’t be female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

On a recent visit to WeThinkCode_’s campus in downtown Joburg, we were amazed at what young South Africans are doing with technology. Blue, for example, is a chatbot that has been built and programmed by the students, and she is able to imitate lifelike features such as nodding, blinking, waving and speaking to people. We had a huge admiration for the institution’s learning methodology which is primarily a peer-to-peer problem-solving environment; this improves the students' communications skills dramatically, making them work-ready for when they start their first four-month paid internship.

The big elephant in the room was the obvious ratios between the male and female coders. In 2016, the tuition-free school opened its’ doors and the first cohort included 6.8% female coders. The percentage almost doubled the next year with a total of 12.8% female coders. The percentage has steadily increased again this year by a further 3%. WeThinkCode_ aims to bring that number up to 18% for their cohort 2019 intake.

Globally, women currently hold 19% of tech-related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies, relative to men who hold 81%. In leadership positions at these global tech giants, women make up 28%, with men representing 72% — this according to a PwC Africa report.

Chief Economist for PwC Africa Lullu Krugel says: “The technology sector is an exciting, fast-moving sector, but disappointingly many women prefer to steer clear of careers in technology. Part of the reason is the low number of girls pursuing STEM subjects at school and in higher education. Our research shows that unless we change various cultural and behavioural drivers within organisations, the matter is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.”

WeThinkCode_’s goal for 2024 is to have 1000 software developers placed in top African companies, 40% of those will be women. An integral part of reaching that target is WomenThinkCode_, an initiative started by WeThinkCode_’s Head of Sourcing and Marketing, Katie Wilter, in efforts to recruit and retain women in tech.

“We’re always saying that we really need to collaborate and do something to make a positive change, so we decided to create the WomenThinkCode_ ecosystem. The ecosystem is made up of a network of inspiring women in tech, across various silos, speaking and engaging with young women at quarterly events,” Wilter says.

These women in tech will also assume the vital roles of being mentors for the female students, and will pledge an hour commitment per month, ideally, a coffee in-person session or a phone or Skype call because that valuable mentorship is really important – especially for our 2nd year students and graduates in their first year of full-time employment,” Wilter continues.

Weekly, during the WeThinkCode_ Selection Bootcamps, the institution holds a safe space for women to share their challenges and victories, both at home and on campus, while giving each other support and encouragement in these WomenThinkCode_ meetings. Panel discussions and visits to high schools to speak to girls who are interested in IT are also some of the many strategies the WomenThinkCode_ initiative will implement to redefine the stereotypes and introduce more women into the coding field.

If you are an aspiring woman in tech aged 17 - 35, apply to join WeThinkCode_’s two year, tuition-free software engineering course: https://apply.wethinkcode.co.za/users/sign_up

Do you have a story to share about challenges in your particular field of study/work? Drop us an email at info@jobstarter.co.za, we’d love to hear from you.