DevConf hosted its 4th Annual Conference on 26 March at the River Club in Cape Town, and Vodacom World in Midrand on 28 March 2019.

The event is a community-driven and developer focused conference which aims to provide software developers with tools, practices and principles applicable to tackling current and future challenges in the South African software development environment.

The two-day event brought in some world class speakers and experts to share global enterprise software development trends, tools and techniques. It also presented an opportunity for the attendees to network as well as engage and be inspired by the experts in the industry.

Different speakers were able to spark inspiration by exchanging ideas and imparting their knowledge. And among these great speakers, was Claire Wood, MD of CN&CO partner Innosys.

Claire’s talk on ‘Pink Hardhats and other Anomalies’  took a closer look at the realities of inequality in software engineering and how everyone can play their role to help the industry move forward.

With years of experience behind her, Claire has been described as a champion of improving gender parity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. She gives a well-rounded view of where the industry is still going wrong with equality and the stats speak for themselves…

52% of our business analysts and testers are women which is amazing, but studies show that, of 361 software engineers 37 are women and of those 37, nine are African women.

The 2017 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) study, also shows that between 15% – 25% of the workforce in STEM organisation will be women and it will take women 217 years to close that gender gap.

Other studies also show fewer women taking careers in the sciences.

Claire further discovered more anomalies when she met Lindiwe Matlali, the founder of Africa Teen Geeks – the largest computer science non-profit organisation in Africa, that exists to expose disadvantaged teenagers to technology and computer science.

She put light to the education system’s role is giving meaningful support to math and science as subject choices at school, as well as support from trade unions for tools and programmes to be offered in school – of which is lacking. “The quickest way to kill an industry is to starve it of skilled people,” said Claire.

She further mentioned that one of the other missing pieces is career exposure. “If a teenager does not know which career paths will be open to them through a particular set of subject choices, they’re not likely to take those subjects,” said Claire.

She encouraged the audience that if they ever feel the need to give back, they should consider volunteering a few hours at organisations such as Africa Teen Geeks or to join a high school roadshow.

“There is nothing more incredible than to see the light switch on for teenage girls,” Claire added. “It is not about what corporates like to do at glossy career days, it is about relatable and accessible role models.”

Claire acknowledged that though organisations such as Africa Teen Geeks, may not be the long term solutions to these problems, it is important that corporates give them support as they are key to making sure that the next generation software developer is being produced.

On gender equality, Claire says the industry should create equity rather than equality. If a man and a woman were offered the same job, for the same pay, we would have achieved gender equality. These opportunities though may appear to be equal they are not necessarily fair, as a lot of time consuming responsibilities, such as raising children and running homes still rely on women.

“It is not just about what we do to get women in the industry. It is equally about what we do once we’ve gotten them in the door,” she added.

She further pointed out the need to change the face of diversity in the industry and the dangers of “hiring bias” in the workplace.

“New hiring managers deserve to be trained. They need to be made aware that they’re going to be prone to bias and need to be given a set of tools when they find that they are,” Claire pointed out.

It is found that diverse teams in workplaces produce better results because they’re uncomfortable. Teams are more challenged with ideas and views that are completely different from their own.

“In this space of cognitive discomfort, you are more likely to be creative, analytical and less likely to base decisions on assumptions,” Claire further pointed out.

In addition to the factors of homogeneity, Claire shared more about tokenism, or rather what she refers to as “unicorn syndrome”.

Claire describes “unicorns” to be what women in technology turn into without condition to believe that they are some kind of anomaly. They also don’t like competition.

These are women holding executive positions in what is known to be “male dominated industries”. The longer they are alone the more they start to believe that they are unicorns.

Claire pointed out that the longer the unicorn is alone it starts to conform and when it conforms, the more it sets an expectation of how women in the industry believe they should behave and act – such as playing golf.

“The next best thing possible for the next generation of women in technology is teaching the room that the only expectation they may rightly have of us is that we do a good job,” said Claire.

The audience was happy to learn that Claire is a reformed unicorn.