DigitALL

IWD2023: African Women In Tech Advocate Sensitization For More Inclusion

By  |  March 8, 2023

When Nasdaq-listed Equinix bought MainOne for USD 320 M in late 2021, it was celebrated as a rare win for Africa. The acquisition was duly honored not just for the sake of its American profile but fundamentally because MainOne, which laid an undersea cable from Portugal to Nigeria, has a female founder and CEO.

Funke Opeke, a Nigerian electrical engineer who also founded Main Street Technologia affixed herself as a beacon and role model to many in the local tech ecosystem. Besides stellarly selling MainOne, she was named by Forbes as one of the world’s top 50 women in tech in 2018 and by Data Centre Magazine as one of the top 10 women to watch in the data center industry. 

Funke, Nigerian, comes from a country where women are largely underrepresented in virtually all areas of business, especially in tech. According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, her likes make up just 22 percent of the total count of STEM university graduates–not all of whom eventually end up in tech. 

In Africa at large, women constitute only 30 percent of professionals in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of the billions invested into the continent’s tech companies in 2021, female-owned startups attracted only 6.5 percent of the cash load, according to Africa: The Big Deal. Plus, only about 12 percent of venture capital decision-makers here are women.

The lack of access to education and training opportunities reasonably contributes to the situation; many African countries have girls discouraged from pursuing STEM subjects in school. But the chief hindrance is gender bias—many of the few women in tech report discrimination of different shades, from unequal pay to sexual harassment. 

DigitALL: spread the word

The gender bias problem in African tech is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach to address. However, the basic solution is continually opening the way for more women to take up responsibilities in the space, without having to deal with stereotypes. 

This inclusivity is significantly captured in the theme for International Women’s Day 2023—DigitALL: innovation and technology for gender equality. The keynote highlights how technology is critical to advancing the rights of women in the digital sphere and tackling online gender-based violence. 

“I am not sure I ever envisaged I was going to end up in tech but given that I had the opportunity to study engineering, it was possible. After all, technology is [really] just about applying scientific knowledge to create digital products,” says Uzochukwu Alor, Co-Founder of Nigerian proptech VENCO

Post-graduation, Uzochukwu forayed into the oil and gas industry, where she worked as a field engineer. Finding herself in the enterprise resource planning solutions space, she became part of the team that created the idea for VENCO, which exists to enhance living experiences for African residential and commercial communities. 

In Uzochukwu’s opinion, the challenges that exist for women in the African tech space are not any different from the ones they face in other walks of life. Indeed, virtual abuse is real. However, there are hopes that policies and programs would help make the internet safe for women and men alike. 

“DigitALL speaks to inclusivity, ensuring that women are not left behind in the technology race. It recognizes the transformative power of tech and how it can be a means to promote gender equality. There is perhaps no other place where this is more important than Africa,” Uzo highlights.

For Adejoke Adekunle, the theme reflects the vision for a world where workplaces are gender inclusive and where women’s efforts are duly recognized when it comes to promoting technology. As Co-Founder of Oddience—a Nigerian consulting software service—she believes in thinking about what is required of her office; whether it is occupied by a male or female hardly matters. 

“When you look at women outside the school environment or those who are not well-informed about tech opportunities, they would be deprived of the experience and the chance to be recognized as equals in the industry. We need to give them the intelligence and toolsets they need to get involved” she tells WeeTracker

Most of what got Adejoke into tech was gotten through information. Unlike Uzochukwu, her first job was in tech, when she started working with Jooberman straight out of graduation. As a result, she believes in exposure being a gift and acquiring information as a way to make progress in the digital workplace. 

Embracing equity 

Promoting African women in tech is not only a matter of social justice but also an economic imperative. To do so, it is essential to provide them with equal opportunities, support, and resources to acquire and develop the skills needed to succeed in the industry. 

This can be done by creating mentorship programs, providing access to training and education, and establishing support networks. 

To take on the challenge, some tech companies look to employ more women, and venture capitalists seek to invest in female founders. Platforms such as She Leads Africa, Nigeria’s GirlsCoding, Uganda’s Wazi Vision and Neopenda, Kenya’s eLimu and Flare, and Rwanda’s Kasha have created VC-backed ecosystems to support the cause. Likewise, venture capitalists seek to back more female founders. 

As a result of these however-paced movements, there has been a steady increase in the number of women in leadership positions in African tech companies, such as CEOs, CTOs, and founders. 

A report by Africa Women in Tech (AWIT) notes that women have 23 percent of board seats and 9 percent of executive positions in the ecosystem. Another research by the African Development Bank (AfDB) discovered that women hold 15 percent of tech-related jobs in the continent. Overall, 24.3 percent of African entrepreneurs are women, higher than the global average of 13 percent. 

Francine Uwamahoro, the Managing Director of Ox Rwanda—a unit of U.K.-based Ox Delivers—says that in her country and line of work, she has noticed a growth in women’s participation through opportunities. 

“Back in high school, I remember we were taught that women and children are the vulnerable class. While the children clause is completely understandable, it took a bit of time and keen interest for me to learn how women are underserved. Along the learning curve, I attended an all-girls school where I was encouraged to study sciences,” she tells WeeTracker. 

OX Delivers, which sells clean and affordable logistics, has a business model that prioritizes the recruitment of women—the company has several female truck drivers. At present, 40 percent of the company’s workforce is made up of women, and is currently looking to increase the inclusion rate to 50 percent. This approach has benefited the likes of Francine. 

“As technology and innovation grow, involving women will not only boost gender equality but also help quicken the process through which digitization is transforming the African economy. When everyone contributes to tech, growth will be much faster,” says Francine.”

By including women in the design and development of new technologies, the local ecosystem can ensure that these innovations are more inclusive, user-friendly, and responsive to the needs of diverse communities. 

Breaking cultural stereotypes

One of the biggest stereotypes preventing the involvement of African women in tech is the conviction that women are not as competent or skilled as men in this field. This stereotype is not only untrue, but it also perpetuates a culture of discrimination against women. 

Another stereotype stems from the deeply ingrained belief that tech is a male-dominated field and that women do not belong in it. The list goes on, but all of such perceptions often amount to online violence. A study referenced by the United Nations, which examined 51 countries, revealed that 38 percent of women had personally experienced online violence.

To eradicate discrimination, whether virtually or physically, increasing support for women entrepreneurs and investors in the tech industry is essential. This may involve creating policies that prohibit gender-based internet trolling and creating a community where women are significantly represented. 

Putting more upcoming and successful female tech talent in the spotlight also works. When more role models exist for the present and future generations of women in tech it can help secure increased female participation and change the face of the industry. 

“Before, the problem was women not being around. Now that they are, we need to start showing these women to other women so they can be inspired. Not that such talent is abundant, but more proof of female presence in the space will encourage participation,” notes Adejoke. 

Largely, achieving gender equality in the tech industry requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. Governments, businesses, educational institutions, and civil society organizations must work together to address.

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