Written by: Lauren Clark
Mint Group Head of People
In July 2016 I attended my first Microsoft WPC event in Toronto, Canada, even though this was not a typical event for an HR person to attend. During my pre-event schedule preparations, I came across the Women in Technology (WIT) group and signed up immediately for the lunch and various talks by WIT members. When I committed to WIT Global that I wanted to bring this initiative back to SA and get a chapter going here, they were incredibly supportive and thrilled that finally, they’d be formalising the first WIT chapter on the African continent. We have since been joined by Kenya and Nigeria, and we are in the process of setting up a second SA chapter in Cape Town.
On my return from Toronto, I quickly roped in my marketing colleagues and we laid out a plan to grow the WIT SA Network by first raising awareness and gaining attendance from other Microsoft partners, and then by expanding our network through referrals and the “bring a friend” campaign.
Over the last two and a half years, Mint has worked hard to achieve a critical mass of regular attendees who have now signed up to be WIT Network members. Microsoft SA has been hugely supportive by giving us a venue to meet, and we have successfully raised awareness among the Microsoft Partner community about WIT. We now have around 40 committed members and still meet every second month. We have members from over 20 different organisations, and every meeting someone new arrives and is welcomed warmly.
This last year has seen WIT SA evolve from a small networking gathering into a larger and more informative knowledge-sharing platform. We have hosted a number of interesting and enlightening speakers, most of whom have come from within the WIT membership. We have had talks on various topics, such as Personal Branding; Microsoft’s Women in Leadership Programme; Living a Life of Gratitude; Design Thinking; Lego Play; Career Changes Later in Life; Being a Women Developer in a Man’s World; and UX/UI Designer: the point and purpose. As well as having these speakers we have also had NGOs who focus on getting young girls into the broad and varied field of technology come and talk with us and share their purpose and success stories.
And we aren’t just about increasing our own connections and enhancing our own careers. Our WIT community has a generous heart and we recently raised funds to support two of our member’s nominated charities just in time for Christmas. Through the exposure, WIT has given to NGOs like TechnoGirl, Social Coding, and GirlCode more and more of our members are getting involved in these initiatives and making impactful changes to the demographics in the technology industry in SA.
Going forward, WIT SA is evolving again. From 2019, members can choose to host a WIT get-together at their office and use the event to drive their own agenda, relevant to the core focus of WIT. This step-up from Microsoft and Mint’s offices means that WIT is now growing outwards into various fields and different companies, which brings with it a wealth of opportunity. The depth of this collective experience is infinite and as the membership continues to grow we will no doubt be able to offer more opportunities to young people interested in this field or already starting out but with little or no direction. There is also a significant opportunity for business partnerships, career changes, and leadership development as we pool our intellect, experience, skills, and knowledge.
Driving WIT has been a personal goal of mine since I joined this industry six years ago. Coming into an IT company as the HR person required a huge learning curve for me, but fortunately, I was surrounded by people who were willing to share their knowledge and aide my growth as an experienced HR practitioner but newly-Minted IT person. I love telling people I work in IT, and then when I say I am the Head of People I can see them falter – but HR is not IT? Oh yes, it is! IT is no longer just an industry – it is a lifestyle, it is a requirement for anyone to be economically active and successful, and it has become the foundation for which the global human network engages, learns, performs, and earns. So WIT provides a wide variety of opportunities within technology as we all have different strengths, expertise, and focus areas. From finance to marketing, to sales, to software programming and everything in between, there is something for everyone in the technology industry.
WIT SA is excited for 2019 and how our chapter will continue to grow into a bigger platform where we can share ideas, drive collaboration, and encourage more people to enter this field and succeed. Our next event is hosted by Vanessa Raath from Altron Karabina at the end of January. If you are interested in joining WIT SA, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.