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Addressing the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

In a challenging economy and job market, equipping youth with the necessary skills and knowledge to be job ready is a crucial stepping stone following formal education. Practical skills development is especially important in the highly specialised fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), to facilitate the application of theoretical knowledge into practice. TechnoGirl is an innovative programme for young women who show an interest in STEM careers with the objective of narrowing the discrepancy in opportunities that still exist between men and women and impede social and economic transformation.

“South Africa is beginning to see a shift in gender diversity with more young women choosing STEM careers,” says Staff Sithole, CEO of TechnoGirl Trust. “Our organisational objective is to facilitate transformation policies and processes with our corporate partners, that serve to better equip young women for entry into STEM careers.”

To date, over 16 000 girls have participated in the TechnoGirl programme and, on average, 75% of the beneficiaries advance to register for STEM careers. In South Africa, only 13% of graduates in STEM fields are women. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. Young women also comprise only 25% of students in engineering or information and communication technology (ICT) careers.

TechnoGirl programme endeavours to break this historical trend by empowering young women through the programmes that they offer. The Job Shadowing programme offers girls in grades 9 to 11 a five-day job shadowing experience, three times per year at participating host organisations. Girls not placed in host organisations attend a virtual job shadowing programme, offered by the Trust, in their schools for grade 8 to 11 learners.  There is also a programme specifically  designed for Grade 12 learners to assist and guide them with on-time application for their post school studies and financial aid and to support them in preparation for their Grade 12 school year.  The post school mentorship programme is offered to girls studying, to support them at their post-schooling institutions and to increase access to subsequent job opportunities. TechnoGirl Digital Skills programme has been designed to develop the skills of unemployed youth specifically for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

“It is essential that we invest in reducing the gender disparity in STEM fields by providing young women from under-resourced and marginalised communities with the means to pursue these careers,” says Sithole. “If we can do this we can not only have transformed and more diverse workplaces but we can also break the cycle of poverty in marginalised communities.”

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