An Equal Byte of the Apple

Wednesday, 16 September 2020


An Equal Byte of the Apple

Fairness, opportunity and the role of women in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

What’s the connection between voice commands that couldn’t be recognised, airbags that would kill rather than save, artificial hearts too heavy for the chests they were meant for, the low availability in marginal communities of sanitary towels, and a quarter of the people holding tech jobs? The answer is a single word – women.

We’re living at the time of a global watershed, and there’s a revolution happening around us – the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), to be exact, and although it’s changing everything, it’s not necessarily changing everything for everybody in the same way. While there are certainly global inequities in access to technology, with communities in the developed world experiencing things very differently from those in developing countries, within those disparities is another, universal disparity, one felt almost equally in every country – the disparity between men and women as agents, workers, and contributors in the world of technology.

And that brings us to the voice commands that couldn’t be recognised – because they were at first developed by men with men in mind. It brings us to airbags that were for decades designed for the male and not the female body, and the artificial hearts that could not be accommodated in the thoracic cavities of women. In short, it brings us to the glaring fact that worldwide, consistently, only around twenty-five percent of the tech workplaces are filled by women.

And that brings us to the tragic fact that apart from the economic difficulties in getting an education in developing communities, most often it’s the girls that suffer the most. They’re the ones who have to miss school for lack of sanitary towels. They’re the ones who have to struggle twice as hard to make their voices heard. They’re the ones who have to overcome deep-seated cultural and historical prejudices and customs. Last in the queue in so many ways, crucially, they’re the ones who are most certainly last in the queue for obtaining an education in the co-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

And that’s one of the critical things that University of Johannesburg, (UJ) wants to see changing. That’s because UJ, as a leading African academic and research institution, knows that as long as those basic educational rights and opportunities are not granted to girls, there will be a dearth of women in the technical world that is going to define the tomorrows of all of us. And that means an inherent imbalance – one that not only denies half the population of the chance of a role in the future, but it denies the future of all the population, of the possibility of benefitting from talent that will never see the light of day.

That’s why UJ is committed not just to interrogating the educational aspects of 4IR. It is committed to all its aspects that pertain to our social, technological, economic and ethical lives as we progress into the 21st Century. And that means a sustained contribution through research, innovation as well as practical and ethical leadership.

As a thought-leader on our continent, UJ understands that if true African participation in the development of 4IR is to be meaningful and relevant, it is going to have to find ways of encouraging, first and foremost, the participation of women.

Moreover, as an institution at the forefront of innovative teaching and learning, UJ is acutely aware that if that kind of movement is to happen, it needs to begin with education. UJ understands that it’s not just through education in STEM that girls must gain confidence, exposure, and a sense that they can realise their full human potential as they grow into adulthood. It’s also through a resocialisation of the societies and communities in which we all live, be they developed or developing, rural or urban. Old attitudes and gender-bound perceptions about jobs, careers and needs will need to be questioned, not just to keep pace with the technological change, but to help drive it – societally, technically, educationally and economically.

And if all that will need to be questioned, then the answers, the ideas, and the agenda, need to be framed and discussed now, so that the future will be the one we all want it to be, for all of us.

An important part of that questioning conversation is the series of online Cloudebate™ discussions that UJ has been hosting so successfully. It’s in honour and celebration of Women’s Month, that UJ’s fourth Cloudebate™ of 2020 will be taking place, and everyone’s invited. All you need to do to participate is to register here, and the join the discussion on 16 September at 18:00 to take part.

So, if you’re a person who wants to see that fairness, equal participation and unfettered opportunity produce a better world for us as individuals, and collectively as societies, then take this opportunity to add your voice. Help give women a voice where it most needs to be heard – in the future.

Join UJ in looking carefully, critically and positively, at how governments, educational institutions, NGOs, businesses and individuals can come together to ensure that the things that are changing, are indeed changing for the better, for all of us, by including all of us, women and men, with equal weight, opportunity, exposure and possibility. Also, meet some of the women who are taking the lead in the 4IR race.

At UJ, the potential of the human imagination is uppermost in everyone’s mind. The future is central to all the teaching, learning and research that happens across its four vibrant campuses. And when those two concepts are put together, as UJ does on a daily basis, the result is a chance for everyone to be a part of reimagining the future.


Prof. Ylva Rodny-Gumede (Facilitator)

Ylva Rodny-Gumede (Facilitator) is the Senior Director: Division of Internationalisation and also Professor in the School of Communication at the University of Johannesburg.

She is a Senior Associate Researcher with the Stanhope Centre for International Communications Policy Research at the London School of Economics. She holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University as well as an MA degree in Politics from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and an MA in Journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K. Ylva is a former journalist and has also worked in marketing and PR. In addition, she has consulted for several government, private and academic institutions in Europe and Southern Africa on issues concerning media and democracy, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, and the SADC Parliamentary Forum. Ylva holds a C 3 rating from the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) and is the current President of the South African Communications and Media Association (SACOMM).

Juanita Clark

Chief Executive – Digital Council Africa

Juanita Clark is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Digital Council Africa, previously known as the FTTx Council Africa. She co-founded the organisation in 2010 after realising the need for grass roots awareness and education with regards to the role of high-speed fibre networks in the telecommunications industry.

The Digital Council Africa is an independent, not for profit organisation that establish dialogue between all stakeholders on how to maximise the societal benefits of digital and data-driven technologies to increase equality, inclusivity and digital adoption. It works closely with public and private sector representing the role digital sector in the economy.  The Digital Council believes that the development and deployment of digital access will enhance the quality of life for citizens in Africa and provide African countries with a digital footprint which will increase their competitiveness in the global market. It forms part of the Fibre Council Global Alliance (FCGA) representing more than 550 companies and stakeholders in the fibre optic industry globally.

Juanita brings with her more than 20 years of technology industry experience and expertise. She is an international speaker and has appeared on multiple international television and radio interviews as well as news articles. A high performing and deeply committed leader she plays a pivotal role in steering and establishing the telecommunications industry in South Africa and Africa.

Dr Stella Bvuma

Dr Stella Bvuma (PhD IT Management) Head of Department: Applied Information Systems University of Johannesburg. School of Consumer Intelligence and Information Systems College of Business and Economics

Dr Stella Bvuma has a driven robust passion in the area of ICT4 Development and ICT adoption. Her Research focuses on ICT adoption by SMMEs towards growth and development. She is currently a member to the Council of the South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists (SAICSIT).

Voluntary Board Membership:
1. Executive Board member: Township Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) in South Africa.
2. Advisory Board Member: Pan African Information Communication Technology Association (PAICTA)

Dr Stella is amongst the 32 women who contributed to the Volume 2 of We Will Lead Africa (WWLA), a collection of stories of impact change and transformation happening across Africa. These are stories of African women leaders who are having extraordinary impact every day. They provide insight and inspiration about what is possible when the contributions of women are celebrated, valued and amplified.

In April, 2019 she was honoured as the Best Academic Leader in Applied Information Systems Studies. The South Africa Education Leadership Awards are presented by Asian Confederation of Businesses with CMO Asia as its Strategic Partner and Stars of the Industry Group as a research partner. Endorsed by the World Federation of Academic & Educational Institutions.

In the same year 2019, she was awarded best Academic Advisor award presented by the International Business and Excellence (IBAE) Awards 2019 in Dubai, UAE, under the GISR Foundation.

She is described by her peers and colleagues as a servant leader or leader with agility. Stella believes in the quote by Jim Rohn: “challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

Njideka U. Harry

Njideka U. Harry is the Founder of Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) an international education technology nonprofit established in 2001.  YTF is empowering the next generation of leaders to enter the workforce with the skills they need to access employment or create their own entrepreneurial opportunities.  YTFs work has impacted over 1.7 million youth and women across 5 countries.  In 2017, Njideka founded 3D Printing Academy for Girls (3DPAG), an education technology startup with a social impact that brings emerging technologies and STEM to life by engaging under-represented girls in technology through making, creating and inventing the world they envision for themselves.

A Fellow and Leadership Group Member at Ashoka, Njideka is a World Economic Forum social entrepreneur and has a global reputation as a thought leader on matters related to the fourth industrial revolution, women and the future of work. Her work has been published in over 100 articles and papers.   She has been invited as a key note speaker and panelist in over 15 countries.

Njideka has served as a strategy consultant to leading startups, nonprofits, foundations and companies with a social mission.  She is on the “Civil Society and the Future of Work” council at the World Economic Forum, the Advisory Council for the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) and the Global Technology Advisory Council for TWINTech.  Njideka is a member of the panel of experts on the Education Index with the Legatum Institute, a London- based think tank.

Prior to founding YTF and 3DPAG, Njideka worked in senior corporate roles in technology, strategy, product management and finance at General Electric and at Microsoft in careers spanning Africa, Europe and North America.

Njideka holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a BBA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She completed post-graduate studies at Stanford University where she was a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow.