INSPIRING Fifty has today opened nominations for this year’s 50 most inspiring South African women who work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
A Dutch-born non-profit organisation, Inspiring Fifty showcases inspiring female role models in the STEM industry. This is the fourth year it has been in SA, but the organisation itself was established in 2013 in the Netherlands by founders, Janneke Niessen and Joelle Frijters.
Despite the progress made on the gender equality front, South African women continue to earn significantly less than men and are under-represented in key STEM fields. This is deterring young women from pursuing careers in these fields, keeping the status quo intact and holding the country back, according to the organisation.
The #InspiringFiftySA campaign says it is changing this by celebrating and showcasing South Africa’s top women in STEM, with the top 50 winners being afforded an opportunity to become part of the Inspiring Fifty network andreceiving an award.
The network consists of women who support each other in the struggles of being a female leader in STEM, and the platform also provides tangible connections to extended industry networks, business opportunities, capacity and resources to bid for larger projects, and scholarships and bursaries.
“According to Statistics SA, women account for 23% of STEM professionals in SA. Of them, 17% are in leadership positions,” says tech entrepreneur Ellen Fischat, ambassador of #InspiringFiftySA.
“The above percentages are even lower when looking at women of colour. In SA, the STEM sector remains very male, but also very pale. Without visible and relatable role models, girls and women of colour are not encouraged to choose careers in STEM.”
When it comes to equal opportunities for men and women, SA continues to lag. A 2019 report by PwC shows that women earn 28% less than their male colleagues. This means female workers have to work over 2.5 hours more every day to earn the same salary as their male counterparts.
In terms of JSE-listed companies, men account for 96.6% of CEOs, 87.2% of CFOs, and 91% of executive directors.
That is not because women are incapable, notes Inspiring Fifty SA. Data by the Department of Basic Education shows that in 2017, female matriculants attained 62.6% of A-passes. A similar situation applies to colleges and universities, in which girls outperform boys.
Mmabatho Mokiti, director of Web site building platform Redshift, agrees: “There is a term called ‘pack mentality’ which is very prevalent amongst men; for instance, through their old boys’ clubs. This makes it difficult for women in the workspace, resulting in them changing to other careers.”
Mokiti, who was one of the 50 winners in 2018, applauds the initiative.
“#InspiringFiftySA is building a pack, but a different one; one that comprises powerful women who are breaking boundaries, challenging the status quo and making South Africa a better, more equal place for all who work and live here,” she notes.
Since its inception in 2017, #InspiringFiftySA has grown from strength to strength, resulting in an international partnership with AccelerateHer, a UK-based initiative that aims to redress the under-representation of women in tech, as well as ongoing support from the Dutch Consulate and Embassy in Cape Town and Pretoria, respectively.