For over a century, International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the world to honor women’s achievements and contributions to their respective institutions and sectors, while challenging the discrimination and oppression they continue to face.
This year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity, to encourage new thinking around a gender-equal world, free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, and where difference is valued and celebrated.
Gender inequality remains a huge challenge in the African Tech ecosystem, with only a few women venturing on the tech entrepreneurship journey, mainly due to a lack of accessibility, knowledge, financing, and support.
To mark IWD 2023, we have asked these women who are investors, founders and operators within the African tech ecosystem about ways we can make the accessibility to tech and the African tech ecosystem more equitable for women. They shared their honest unfiltered answers, and we can all learn a thing or two from what they have shared.
We should continue to promote safe and inclusive work environments that welcome gender equality whether through policies or hiring practices. I also believe that more funds and grants recognising the value funding women founded teams bring, will also lower the barriers of entry to building successful startups and create a more equitable ecosystem.
Timileyin Idowu, MAGIC Fund.
Let’s pave the way for a tech ecosystem that celebrates diversity and equality. By investing in training, mentoring, and funding women in tech, we can create a culture that empowers and elevates women to their full potential. Wherever we look, let’s ask the hard question: ‘Where are the women?’ and ensure they have the visibility they deserve in all areas of the industry.
And to all the women out there, know that you don’t have to blend in to stand out. You are strong, you are brave, and you are destined to lead. So let’s own it and make history together.
Long-term and wide-reaching commitment is critical to making the tech ecosystem more equitable for women. The inequity we seek to address has its foundations in long standing structures and societal constructs, which won’t be overturned by shining a fleeting spotlight on the issues.
There are various initiatives from childhood interventions in the area of STEM education to accelerators supporting female-founded startups and VCs with a clear mandate to fund female-led startups. These are all commendable but we need to guard against paying lip service to embracing equity.
The more nuanced inhibiting factors to equity, which go beyond women getting a foot in the door or even a seat at a table, deserve greater attention. Let’s tackle difficult issues such as social network and funding disparities, which limit the value of women within the ecosystem.
To truly work towards equity, we need to go beyond measures which simply broaden access for women. The next tangible step is to work towards increasing the depth of women’s impact within the tech ecosystem and in turn the world the ecosystem seeks to impact positively.
Providing women with equitable access to technology and supporting their participation in the African tech industry requires eliminating every subtle form of micro inequities. Let’s support and acknowledge the abilities, dedication, and personal background of women by refraining from any comments that could undermine their confidence and potential. All women in tech should have the opportunity to succeed.
The first step to ensuring equitable access to tech and the African tech ecosystem for women is by actively addressing the entry point, especially at the educational level.
The interest in technology happens at different times for people but the reality is that the spaces to learn how to interact with technology and create formidable ideas and businesses are male dominated, and this has a ripple effect on how the tech ecosystem has been built and run. Therefore, there should be intentional actions by all relevant stakeholders that girls (before becoming women) are given the same opportunity and encouragement to get in the room, be involved and acquire the necessary skills and experiences. The more girls see more of themselves in the room (as students and teachers), the more equal the tech landscape shall be.
But for the women of today that have to deal with the inequality, again, intentional actions need to be done to ensure women are pushed to get the knowledge, skills and funding to build businesses that make up the tech ecosystem.
Furthermore, women should be given more opportunities as decision makers in the African Tech Ecosystem, especially with funding. As proven, women make the best business decisions and returns on investment, so it is high time we are given the equal opportunity to writes cheques that will positively disrupt the tech landscape.
Improving accessibility and equitability for women in the African tech ecosystem will involve promotion of female entrepreneurs, prioritizing diversity and inclusion. It will also involve affirmative action, introduction of flexible work schedules, and zero-tolerance policies for harassment and discrimination. There also needs to be more funding and improvement of access to resources, networks, and support systems needed to launch and expand their businesses as these are presently difficult for women.
We must develop gender-sensitive regulations that give female entrepreneurs access to funding, mentoring, and networking opportunities. Governments, private sector, and investors can create funding and investment strategies that are expressly geared toward women entrepreneurs.
Overall promoting gender equity in the African tech ecosystem requires a multi-faceted approach that includes education, workplace culture, mentorship, access to funding, and addressing biases and stereotypes. By taking these steps, we can create a more equitable and inclusive tech industry that benefits women and society as a whole.
Women in tech can mean different things to different women, for instance if you join a technology company, you are either an engineer, accountant, operator, HR and the list goes on. These days it is no longer about owning a tech company, it’s more on the role you play in the business. Becoming a co-founder and COO in a tech company in Africa made me understand that we excel in different things and that is what makes us great.
My job is to make sure that business operations run smoothly. By doing this I make sure I understand all my engineers, the vision and profits for the company. In my company, we try to close the gender gap by creating opportunities for females to work in the roles that they aspire to work in. I have seen and met a lot of brilliant women that own their businesses, had conversations with them and have come to conclusion that for us as women to be more inclusive in the tech industry we must recruit women for leadership positions, start supporting women strategically, hire more women for technical positions, provide mentorship for girls and women, change culture of how things are and start using inclusive language.
I believe that it is important to bring more women into tech as they can bring a fresh approach and offer unique perspectives to meet challenges, solve problems, and design new products.
Ife Ojobanikan, Berrywood Capital
From when she is a girl, the African female needs to know that all opportunities are available to her. STEM isn’t only for boys and the Arts, not just for girls. We need to eschew assuming frailty and lower intelligence because she is female; stop assigning homely, feminine or caregiver career paths and hobbies to women.
Many people assume competence and give the benefit of the doubt for men, this should be more evenly split. Career choice should also be child-led; allow them to explore and create an enabling environment that gives the variety of choice. It’s often that simple. The only way to develop an interest and double down is when you know it’s on the table in the first place.
Hillary Omitogun, CreateApe
To help women join the tech industry, I believe we need to use grassroots strategies. Studies show that many women lack confidence in joining the field. We need to share more stories of women who work in different tech fields, as well as their successes and failures; there aren’t enough of these stories. Although organizations like She Code Africa run several mentorship programs for women, there should be more. We need programs that encourage young girls to pursue tech and show them the possibilities in this field.
Additionally, we need to provide more networking opportunities for women. A lot of the tech events I’ve attended lack structure, which makes networking challenging. While I’ve had to muster the courage to walk up to people and network, this doesn’t come easy for a lot of women due to several systemic issues. Therefore, we need tech events that specifically encourage women to network and show them how to do it.
Adora Nwodo, Microsoft
In my opinion, women need more sponsorships than mentorships. While mentors provide guidance and advice, sponsors do that and also use their influence to create opportunities for their protégés. There are a lot of cases of people being overtrained and under funded, so I will not be speaking about training today.
To make accessibility to tech and the African tech ecosystem more equitable for women, we should provide more opportunities for talented women. In the entrepreneurship space this could be funding, important advice, exposure, and communities. For employees, this could be access to communities that are safe for them to express themselves, or access to global career growth opportunities. It’s important for us to get to a place where we are intentional about talking about accessibility and actually doing the work to increase the accessibility of these opportunities.
Beyond these, companies can create a supportive workplace culture by offering flexible work arrangements, parental leave, menstrual leave, and other benefits that support women’s work-life balance. This will help to retain women in the industry and provide opportunities for advancement. Companies can also take steps to promote diversity by actively recruiting and promoting more talented women to leadership positions and creating the structure to help motivate the early career women to grow. This can help to create a more welcoming environment for women in tech and foster innovation in the industry. Finally, as we talk about the current women-in-tech, let’s not leave out the younger generation.
We need to encourage more girls in primary and secondary schools to pursue STEM education. I recently started something with my friend to solve this, but we need more people. We go to secondary schools and motivate the girls to pick up STEM careers. We also offer mentorship, but we obviously can’t do it alone. More people can provide scholarships, mentorship programs, and help setup STEM clubs in schools.
By creating opportunities for girls to excel in STEM fields, they will be more likely to pursue careers in tech and contribute to the ecosystem.
From here, the measures are two-pronged. The first is including measures that make women more available in the African tech ecosystem while the second includes measures that keep women thriving & successful in the ecosystem.
On making women available,
- legal & regulatory interventions that provide access to financing for women owned businesses should be promoted such that laws that exclude women from accessing capital & financial advise through requirements that aren’t asked of men are reviewed.
- Legal & financial accessibility is a huge barrier for women in MSME leading to constraints that inhibit the growth of their businesses and when they gain access to finance, they achieve more in terms of capital utilization & better ROI.
- Creating safe spaces that allow women freely choose to interact with themselves or men in the ecosystem. Creating totally separate places makes it difficult for women & men in the ecosystem to co-exist yet forcing this co-existence also creates an uncomfortable dynamic
On measures that keep women in the ecosystem successful & thriving
- increasing the number of women in key positions in PE & VC firms globally. Today, women hold only about 10 percent of these roles globally creating a wide gap in gender diversity. There is a direct correlation between the number of female funders and female founders. Quite often, people tend to find what’s familiar — in terms of gender, market, sectors. In an early market like the African market, putting more women in funding positions makes it easy for women to get funded.
- increasing access to funding opportunities for women owned ventures.
- intentionally including women in opportunities that place them in the limelight — panel sessions, round tables, key economic decision conversations.
- be bold in actions to change social norms & attitudes about women participation in technical roles
- supporting more women founders to succeed so they become role models to other women. There’s a dearth of successful female role models in the ecosystem
Timame Wanyoike, Katapult VC
We need more pathways to technical role for women in Africa. Disproportionately, roles that see more women in them are non-technical like marketing & strategy. However, most tech companies are founded by technical founders. More pathways to tech education via platforms like Altschool Africa and Andela for women will be critical in increasing accessibility
We need more investors writing checks to women-led / co-founded businesses. Depending on who you ask, women-led or co-founded tech companies in Africa raised between 2% — 13% of VC funding last year despite Africa having the largest share of women entrepreneurs globally. Majority of Africa VC dollars go into single male / all-male led companies, a fact that is aligned with global trends. However, data shows that gender diverse teams are more revenue generating and have higher ROI compared to single-male / all-male startups. More investors that are focused on backing more women will not only increase accessibility to tech for women but more critically will return more money to investors.
We need more ecosystem builders & networks focused on providing community & support for women founders in Africa. The Africa tech ecosystem is still young and there is so much information that is not accessible to people. More ecosystem players such as accelerators, incubators, advisors etc that can translate & share learnings to upskill women in tech is a critical step to level the playing field for women in Africa tech.
For me, I would say in order to make accessibility to the African tech ecosystem equitable, we need to be more intentional with increasing access.
It’s not that there is gate preventing it access. Tech leaders need to make an concerted effort to increase access either by funding more women led companies (not just talking about it and providing mentorship), passing policy that requires a certain amount of women be hired at a company for certain tax benefits.
At the end of the day, we have to be the change we want to see and the reward only comes in the doing; not the talking, but the doing.
Finally, we asked one of our own, Thonia, who manages communications,
Accessibility to tech and the African tech ecosystem can be more equitable for women by building a strong supportive network of female-led founders, investors, and operators that women can look up to and count on.
This network will equip them with everything they need to know in tech, help them navigate through the challenges they may face in their day-to-day life, support their advancement and create new opportunities for them in Tech.
This can be done through the creation of mentorship programs, webinars, networking events, and other avenues for women to connect.
Women have more power, especially when they band together.
Happy International Women’s Day! #EmbraceEquity
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