Women in African tech

How we can accelerate change from within?

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While gender equality in business has become a hot-button issue around the world, it is arguably within the fast-growing technology sector that some of the greatest disparities persist.

In recent years, the growing emphasis on empowering women within the sector has led to some statistical improvements—yet it is clear that there is much work to be done. According to numbers provided by Stinsad Consult at the recent Women in Tech conference held in Cape Town, Sub-Saharan Africa has a technology sector that is 30% female compared to 28% globally. Notably, women hold 33% of executive positions within African tech, which is far better than Silicon Valley, where the figure sits at a paltry 11%.

Yet, despite what the regional numbers may reveal, the opportunities to work within gender-balanced teams are still minimal in South Africa. There is no doubt that women are being increasingly underrepresented within the industry. Arguably, the percentage of women holding senior positions within the South African tech industry is on a steady decline.

Why?

This national decline could be attributed to the sometimes unrecognised, multi-faceted roles that women perform on a daily basis (i.e. mother, wife, manager, employee, etc.). Women are forced to handle the pressures of each role while still attempting to break into an industry that does not recognise what individual life circumstances demand.

Looking ahead, we can be certain that addressing the precarious tight rope of gender balancing cannot be solved overnight. However, we do have the power to lock arms and to influence the scales at grassroots level—particularly within educational institutions. Indeed, communities, the government and businesses must support schools that are empowering young girls (and boys) with coding skills. This is imperative, as such forward-thinking institutions are the game changers.

Creating robust support structures

In addition to the institutional innovation that must take place, it is critical to establish mentorship opportunities and healthy support structures for women. As it stands, such opportunities are few and far between—and this results in increased frustration and high exit rates within local tech companies.

As women, we have the power to create and sustain such empowerment structures. Moreover, we have the power to create and empower each other, and we shouldn’t forget that! It takes the first step of courage, collaboration and actively identifying how we can leverage the partnerships of the environments that we find ourselves in… with integrity.

Investing in personal development

In my own career, I have had to learn how to tap into the self-awareness that is required to evaluate myself in relation to the challenges that I encounter.

With self-awareness, I can course correct and adjust my mindset according to my environment. It was (and is) a necessary and continuous process. It doesn’t stop. I have strategically invested (and still do) in personal development, and I made a decision very early on to become coachable and teachable. Importantly, I have also leveraged the wisdom and guidance of mentorship.

For women who are looking to kick-start their careers in tech, or to become more confident and established, here is my blueprint for growth:

  • Do your research, prepare yourself for the journey, embrace the continuous growth that comes with the process,
  • Understand the lay of the land—who the game changers are, what the trends are—and find out how you can get involved,
  • Participate in workshops, leverage peer groups, stay informed—don’t underestimate the power of networking,
  • Do goal setting, be clear and deliberate, stagnation is not your friend—progress is,
  • Challenge yourself to push beyond your comfort zone,
  • A high level of emotional intelligence goes a long way, be open to cultivating it,
  • Identify thought leaders in the field that you are interested in—where possible, engage with them,
  • Find a mentor whom you can take guidance from—they have the experience,
  • Raise your hand when required,
  • Be a team player,
  • Exercise self-care, always. Know when to refuel and regroup, don’t run on empty,
  • Fail forward—it’s part of the process! 
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