At Intel South Africa we are focused on enabling women to develop marketable skills, helping women find and retain employment, and supporting women in obtaining equal social and economic rights and achieving leadership positions,” she adds.
Education is the equaliser
“The biggest barrier to women taking their rightful place in our society is education. It should be free and fair for all, but it isn’t. There needs to be a concerted effort to educate our women and to improve the content of this education for women,” says Proothveerajh. “Men and women are just different – I don’t mean it in a negative way, because we complement one another really well. For example, we have a skills shortage in maths and science in our country, but if you look more closely and analyse the ratio of males to females in this speciality, it’s dramatically skewed towards men,” she continues.
Much research shows the correlation between a country’s education level and the growth of its GDP. Consider a country like India, which has in recent times developed quite dramatically, largely as a result of momentum – both from government and business – behind its education. “In South Africa, we speak the right speak – in fact if we were a company, education would feature prominently in our strategy, but do we have the right execution in terms of programmes and tools, specifically for women? I don’t believe so. We don’t do enough as a nation to educate our females. Yet, educate a woman and you educate a nation. I’ve seen it happen in my own life. My mother has a diploma, and so she understood the value of education, both for me and my brothers. She believed education was the perfect tool for being successful in life. Once you educate the women in this country, there’s no mother that would not want their children to not be educated. If you don’t have an education, you might not understand its value. Educating the women of this country is a huge task we’re facing, but every company has a responsibility to help create the talent pool for the future. It’s not merely government’s responsibility,” elaborates Proothveerajh.
Worlds ahead with Intel
As the world's largest semiconductor chip maker, Intel is doing its bit to create the talent pool of the future with its education programmes. Its biggest success has been the Intel World Ahead programme. With over 200 active programmes worldwide, World Ahead has worked with over 70 countries – South Africa included – to allow more people to participate in today’s digital world.
“Through World Ahead, we're putting the right technology in the hands of people and businesses to improve education and healthcare, stimulate economies, and enrich lives. Collaborations with governments, other industry leaders, and non-governmental organisations have allowed us to accelerate access to technology for the next billion people,” explains Proothveerajh. The World Ahead programme aims to provide access and connectivity to technology that is affordable and available, while improving teaching and learning with information and communication technologies (ICT), Internet access, teacher professional development, and the appropriate content for this education. It supports the development of locally relevant and useful digital content and applications. Intel-supported PC purchase programmes help teachers, students and parents obtain technology.
Networking with WINners
While this education drive has not been gender specific, other Intel programmes are developed solely for the fairer sex. Take its WIN – or Women at Intel Network – initiative. Proothveerajh recalls how she first encountered the initiative at an Intel diversity conference she attended shortly after joining the multinational. “I found out as much as I could about it, having decided that we needed a WIN chapter in South Africa too, which we then launched about two years ago,” she says. WIN is essentially a platform for personal as well as professional development for women in Intel. “It’s aimed very much at how we give you the unique or additional platforms that you need to be successful in your role within Intel, as well as a human being. Every chapter is different, although there are overarching philosophies, such as developing and nurturing females. For our South African chapter, we decided we would focus on networking. If there’s something I find we as women don’t do as well as men, it is networking,” points out Proothveerajh. Intel head office duly developed a networking course for the women at Intel South Africa. These women have also focused on the process of building their personal brands, and providing support for the mothers among the network members, as most of the women at Intel South Africa have children. “The focus of the initiative is about helping women overcome their common challenges. At the end of the year we will take stock and measure if we’ve achieved our goals, and then reassess them,” she adds.
Aside from staff retention programmes such as WIN, Intel is also keen to attract the right calibre of future leadership, hence its Intern and Recent Graduate programmes. Intel South Africa currently has four interns and two graduates in the programmes. “While the intake isn’t huge, we’re very passionate and committed to these programmes, and invest much time and money into them,” she enthuses. “Over a 12-month programme, these young women get training in a host of business-related skills, from presentation skills to business writing skills. Even if they don’t stay on with Intel, we have helped to build a human being who has almost all the business skills necessary to succeed in any company. These girls are going to have such a great head start in their careers. Their time at Intel wasn’t just 12 months of sitting around and filing. They will have worked hard, but they are going to be great one day. We made a conscious decision that we would only have a female intake, because we were looking at creating a balance in the ICT industry from a gender perspective. It’s a bit short on the female side, so we’re using our programmes to get more females into the industry.”
A word of advice
Proothveerajh’s advice for any other companies wanting to empower women is to first understand the value of such a programme in order for it to be successful. “You never do something because you’re told to do it or because you think it’s the right thing to do. Do the research, and do it because you sincerely believe in it. Understand why it’s going to add value to your bottom line. Companies exist to make money. It’s great to have programmes that are about the less tangible things, but it has to show on the balance sheet at the end of the day. If you do decide to launch an intervention or programme it also has to fit with the culture of your company. I’ve seen a lot of programmes fail because companies ran them because it was the in-thing to do, or because somebody said they should do it, but it didn’t fit with the company culture.
And then you have to be committed, especially from a senior management perspective. You have to be willing to give of your time and resources, because if you don’t give your commitment, people down the chain never will. Finally, develop the right tools for such a programme. No programme is perfect, and often it’s an iterative process, but start somewhere and refine the process as you go along. Recognise that everybody is an individual and find the right place for them within the holistic environment of the company,” she concludes.
Taking her cue from the female leadership at Intel head office, Videsha Proothveerajh, the Country Manager for Intel South Africa, is passionate about empowering the women in her workforce. The microchip maker has several programmes, not only to retain its female staff members, but also to develop them and young female entrants into the world of technology.
Intel's vision is to become the high technology industry leader in diversity. “We want to be recognised as a workplace of choice for all people. Intel's commitment to diversity assumes everybody is treated with dignity and respect regardless of visible and invisible differences,” explains Proothveerajh. While Intel is committed to diversity in the broadest sense, its current strategy is focused on maintaining our leadership position in key areas while also addressing its greatest gaps in race and gender. “Women in South Africa are often marginalised, which represents lost potential. The case for empowering women is well-known and it is the responsibility of both the public and private sector to intensify its engagement in the economic empowerment of women. This is a goal that is worthy in itself and needs no further justification.
Intel: Leadership Through Diversity
by Laura Franz-Kamissoko