The 2021 Tomorrow’s Cyber Heroines study undertaken by CyberHeroines, KnowBe4 Africa and Infosphere Limited surveyed more than 445 teachers across 14 African countries to unpack the complexities that face African girls in the technology landscape. With Africa’s future reliant on its ability to adapt to digital transformation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), levelling the playing field for women has become critical. It has never been more important to change the cybersecurity workforce gender statistics than it is today.
“We have to give girls more opportunities, inspire them to get involved in technology and the cybersecurity field, and to remove the preconceived and socialised ideas that prevent women from pursuing careers in technology,” said Anna Collard, SVP of Content Strategy and Evangelist KnowBe4 Africa. “The world is digitising rapidly and women are at risk of being left behind. We have to change the dialogue around technology and make it more inclusive for women and girls.”
Women are already at a disadvantage. A recent study by the Association for Progressive Communications underscored the reality of the gender digital divide. In Africa women have less access to internet-based technologies than men, they have fewer opportunities, they are even more limited in their ability to move out from under poverty. As the world continues to move into automation, women will be the most affected as their roles are replaced by machines. Change has to start now, it has to start at home, and it has to be carried through into education.
“We want African women to participate in the digital age – we cannot leave them behind,” said Aprielle Oichoe, Managing Director of InfoSphere. “We must empower girls to go into technology and this starts at a young age. We need to make a conscious decision to change the way we treat young girls. The dialogue needs to focus on making technology interesting for girls, not just something that they should ‘leave to their brother.”
The study found that a lack of education, limited guidance, minimal role models and societal preconceptions are having a serious, long-term impact on women’s careers and futures. With cybersecurity and technology struggling to find skilled people, the market is wide open for those with the talent and the training to build sustainable and successful futures. In addition to thriving careers, training and education in technology and cybersecurity is essential for the wellbeing of young girls and women in Africa.
“According to research, women of colour are 34% more likely to be targeted by online hate speech than their white counterparts, and a huge percentage of African girls are concerned about their online safety,” said Collard. “We must give them the tools, training and confidence they need to prepare for this online vitriol, and protect themselves.”
The key factors inhibiting women’s entry to the worlds of technology and cybersecurity include: negative stereotypes, lack of role models or mentors, low self-confidence, and competing in a male-dominated industry. Women are generally discouraged from careers in STEM and steered towards traditionally female roles instead.
“There is no such thing as a female role, not anymore,” said Oichoe. “Now there is just opportunity. We just have to make sure that this opportunity is given to everyone.”