De-coding Stereotypical Thinking 20 November , 2018

*Ole! Media Group working to narrow the gender gap in Media IT *

It’s 2018 and global research reports that gender bias still lurks within the work place – no shock there.  However, because women are used to “doing it for themselves”, there are those intrepid females among us who stand up and challenge the status quo.  That was the case at Ole! Media Group when two young women joined the ranks and – encouraged by the progressive leadership of the organisation – are proving that gender stereotyping in the dev space is not as clear cut as it used to be. In telling this story, the company hopes to encourage more organisations to follow suit.

More than 10 years ago, when Luané Swart began her journey as part of the working class, all  her female classmates opted for jobs in teaching, beauty and early childhood development. It was a time when venturing into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) were largely unfamiliar paths for South African women to pursue, and it was this very reason that drew Luané into the tech space.

She recalls boasting to her parents as a little girl – saying that she’d be a boss with a briefcase one day. Never imagining that her briefcase would eventually turn into a backpack for her coding laptop. “I took an aptitude test to determine my career path and the results suggested that I become an Accountant. At that time, a college visiting my school gave a tech presentation and I was wowed by the idea of becoming a Developer.” That presentation would be the push for Luané to pursue a career in tech and software development, where she began her studies as one of only six women in a class of 100 students.

Where transformation begins – breaking down stereotypical thinking

In an age where information is freely available, Luané says that the part of the reasons why few women occupy roles in the tech space is because often attitudes towards gender biased educational directions still prevail, and schools do not provide a framework that encourages women to branch into this field. She remembers a day when she and classmates were tasked to choose their coding languages: when her lecturers stressed how complex Java would be to learn, she was adamant that Java would be the language she chose. She made a point of proving that she was capable of learning a complex coding language, even if that meant being the only female in her class learning it.

Had it not been for her own curiosity to learn more about tech after being vaguely introduced to the industry, Luané would probably have become an accountant.

Awareness of careers in the tech space is but one of the factors affecting women in Africa, according to a recent article published by HoneyKome. The article echoes Luané’s sentiment regarding education, adding that many South Africans still don’t have access to schooling or resources such as data, which could reinforce self-education.

Companies like Ole! Media are working to close the gender gap by offering growth opportunities to young, ambitious women pursuing careers in media, marketing, sales and technology.

When Luané joined MobiMedia – the mobile division of the Ole! Media Group – she joined as a Senior Developer and the only female within the team. Luané quickly rose to Team Lead, as her passion for gaming and computers and the fact she was a woman in a predominantly man’s world, drove her to excel. When asked what she loves most about being a developer, she said that no two days are the same. “Every day is different. There’s always a new client, a new challenge, a new requirement –  it’s not boring. It’s fun and exciting and I feel I am breaking new ground everyday – there’s something very empowering in knowing that anyone can achieve what they set out to do, despite the barriers in their way, or even because of them.”

More female mentors

It is important for young women to have role models who represent future possibilities. Women such as the #Inspiring50 who were recently named – 50 incredible women who are forging new paths in the STEM sector in South Africa.  But, also, young women like Luané, to whom colleagues can look up to. Up and coming Graphic Designer and Developer, Nelmari Addison is a case in point.  She has been working closely with Luané over the past year to advance her skills and experience as a Developer. Nelmari joined the group as a promising intern graphic designer who was then appointed as designer and developer at the company. She found coding by chance while working as a waitress at a coffee shop, explaining that the quaint coffee shop had a horrible-looking website with which she desperately wanted to assist. “All I wanted to do was help them change the look of the website because I felt that it didn’t represent the store at all. That’s when I decided to study Graphic Design and started dabbling in web development, which I thought I might as well learn, too. And here I am, loving every day at work.”

For Nelmari, life in the workplace appears to be flowing as it should be – with a relatable mentor, an opportunity for growth in the tech space, and the possibility that she may one day inspire a young female dev herself. Such small wins are to be celebrated and while Ole! Media displays one positive case study, it’s a show of positive transformation that can also improve if more companies follow suit.

CEO of the Ole! Media Group, Deseré Orrill, who has herself broken through some barriers when it comes to doing things differently, recognises that the opportunities in the digital media space are endless – for women as well as for their male counterparts.  She says: “I have seen how Luané has grown and developed over the years she has been with us, yet when it comes to hiring more developers for the team, female applicants are few and far between.  I refuse to believe it is because they are not interested in coding, Luané and Nelmari are proof this is not so.

“Our developers agreed to share their story as part of a ‘soft’ campaign that we are espousing, aimed at encouraging companies in the space to stop, and take stock of what is happening in the work place and to be open to encouraging new skills and welcoming new thinking where we can narrow the gender gap. “

We need to rethink attitudes and ‘decode’ the gender stereotypes that prevail within this important field – and it starts right from grass roots, as Luané’s story shows. Share this article with a friend, a parent, a boss or a mentor and help create a movement that encourages more families, schools, colleges and companies to mentor and develop female developers.

Meet Luané and Nelmari:

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