The technology scene has been considered as a ‘man’s field’ for the longest time. Only recently has the inclusion of women been brought into the forefront of people’s minds. Why? Because women are talented, we love tech too, why should we be hindered from getting into tech? Many tech companies are changing their workforce to include women in an effort to be diverse, but women are still a minority and there are many reasons as to why this is the case. One of the reasons is due to lack of support from people in the field, both male and female. This is something that has led to the formation of various forums, organizations and campaigns geared towards creating a support systems to encourage more and more women to enter the tech space.
Women in Tech Africa is one such organization. It is spread across 30 African countries, a diaspora chapter launched in London earlier this year and has 500 members signed on. With conferences and talks organized frequently, it gives women in various technological fields a chance to come together and support each other, through advice, networking opportunities and sharing of each other’s experiences in the industry. Thursday evening saw the launch of the Kenyan chapter, with several successful women (and man) speaking to a room full of eager, brilliant and tech loving women.
So you are a woman in tech, or a tech entrepreneur, what was shared during the event that can help you? Well here is a run-down of some of the key issues discussed.
Be Good At What You Do
“You have to be good at what you do, period!”
Companies are on the lookout for potential women employees. This does make it easier for women to get hired, but don’t sit there with your IT degree or certificate and think that it will be easier for you to get a job because you’re a woman. Please do not lie to yourself. It’s not enough. “You have to be good at what you do, period!” says Amrote Abdella, Director Venture Capital & Startups, Microsoft 4Afrika Initiatives. All these women that spoke at the event are first and foremost good at what they do and it was clear to see that.
A woman in tech doesn’t need to be content with being average and expect things to go their way because of their gender. Companies need experts, they will probably not hire you if you cannot help them achieve their goal, just so that they meet some diversity threshold. Neither can you expertly run a business without some expertise and confidence in your skills. Therefore it is an obvious advantage to be good. Life will be easier, but not all the time. What do I mean by that?
Wambui Kinya, Managing Director, Pan Africa at Thought Works said at times, your expertise might not be acknowledged just because you are a woman. She shared a story about a time she kept getting criticized by her male boss on her code. Everyday presented a new problem with her code, no matter what improvements she made. One day however, a co-worker, Chris asked her to try something. They would exchange code and present it as their own. Interestingly, the boss could not stop talking about how perfect and efficient Chris’ code was. He thought it was perfect. He couldn’t believe it when Chris said that the code belonged to Wambui, not him. What does this tell us? Well you might be the best at something, but not everyone will appreciate this. You can either choose to be smart, and find out ways of being noticed, or sit there and let self – doubt and despair settle in, become a victim. Please do the former.
Focus On The Successes Not The Challenges
“When someone asks me about the challenges I have faced getting to where I am, I instead tell him of the successes that I have achieved”
When I meet successful people, I always wonder what challenges that they have faced in order to get to where they are, it couldn’t be smooth sailing all the way. That perspective was changed. “We spend too much time focusing on the challenges and failures and we often fail to highlight the successes. Something will become a challenge if you make it one. It is all in our heads. When someone asks me about the challenges I have faced getting to where I am, I instead tell them of the successes that I have achieved. I choose to focus on that,” says Linet Kwamboka. It is true, challenges exist only if we let them exist. If we look at issues more as opportunities to success, then smooth sailing assent up the ladder is a given.
“Doubt is like a cancer. If a woman starts doubting their skills it can totally wreck their confidence and end their career in tech”, she says. While working in Boston at a software development company, meeting other female software engineers gave Wambui confidence in her skills. “Sharing about our experiences gave us strength. It is important to support each other especially in moments of doubt”
Women Make Better Entrepreneurs
Sean Griffin, CEO and founder of StartUp Cup, which is a global network of locally-driven accelerators, has worked with close to 65,000 start ups and recognized an interesting trend. “At the beginning of the program, the percentage of female entrepreneurs coming the program was very small, but by the end of it, their businesses were most successful. Reason is because women make better entrepreneurs. We realized that there was something big there, hence the inception of WECREATE centers across the world, with Kenya joining the program in November. These are centers targeted at women entrepreneurs, open to all business ideas.” he said.
According to Griffin, women make better entrepreneurs for a variety of reasons. Good team work, collaboration and a willingness to learn and the perseverance to achieve the long term goals. Leveraging these skills, especially in the technology space surely this is a recipe for success, therefore highly encouraged.
Stand On The Shoulder Of Giants
One thing that was mentioned over and over again through out the meeting was the importance of teamwork and creating strong support systems. Griffin identified that without a doubt, women make good teams, therefore during programs at the WECREATE centers, they teach team building. Angela Oduor Lungati, Director of Community at Ushahidi brought out the need to connect with others, to achieve a certain goal. “The key to success in my own opinion is to stand on the shoulder of giants. You need to find ways to connect with each other, especially as women.” It is a fact that you can achieve something on your own, but with a team of like minded people, it gets easier.
Education Is Key
There is a stereotype out there that girls are not good at science. Who is it that came up with this? Many many women across the world have dispelled this stereotype. In fact, women are good, if not better in science than men in my opinion. But generally, this does not show in numbers. Why? So many women have been disadvantaged. In Africa, especially, not many girls are educated and if they are, not many are encouraged to excel and pursue subjects in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) categories because they are considered as ‘manly subjects’. A subject cannot chose gender, who has the right to say what can and a cannot be studied by different genders.
Amanda Gicharu Kemoli has taken steps to give equal opportunities to young kids to show that anyone can pursue STEM subjects. She is the co-founder and program director of Tech Republic Africa, which is a holiday boot camp program that aims to demystify and make STEM subjects fun for kids, in that they see how they can use technology in their interests, be it music, gaming or fashion. One key thing about this program is that gender doesn’t matter. Both boys and girls can study about and use technology. It doesn’t matter and everyone should have an equal opportunity to do this.
Akirachix has taken the responsibility to inspire and develop a successful force of women in technology who will change Africa’s future. Born at the iHub, Angela Lungati says that initially it was formed to bring together the few number of women at the facility and find ways to increase their numbers. Today, Akirachix aims to reach out to young women at different levels and equip them with skills and knowledge so that they can have a career in technology.
Modesty Is For The Weak
“Sometimes, modesty is for the weak. If I go and introduce myself as just the CEO of Data Science Ltd….few will be interested….when someone else introduces me,…then all over sudden, many more people want to know me”
So you are a woman in tech, be proud of it. Never down play your skills in order to fit into a certain box or not intimidate others. A woman spoke up during the meeting and said that after studying computer science, she felt shame. She did not feel like a woman because that is not what women were supposed to be. She let her techie self die and took up a more acceptable feminine persona. This is common, you have the interest and skill in tech but you are not accepted, and many women fall due to this. You should be proud and confident enough to stand out. Make your skills known, gain respect!
“Sometimes, modesty is for the weak. If I go and introduce myself as just the CEO of Data Science Ltd, then that is all people will know, few will be interested but when someone else introduces me, they say all the wonderful things I have accomplished that will look like I’m bragging if I say it myself, then all over sudden, many more people want to know me”, says Linet. Sometimes, it is recommended to let your skills speak for you. Do not down play them, do not hide them.
So, join the movement. You don’t have to be a hard core coder to be considered a woman in technology. Lets create a strong support system and encourage the younger generation of women to adopt tech careers.With a diverse tech space with people of different gender, race, background and age, who can predict what we come up with next?