The top 4 challenges that African Women in Tech Face

Cue James Brown lyrics as background music to this article:

This is a man’s world! Pum, pum, pum! This is a man’s world!

Every day new job opportunities are developed in the world, but women are still sadly under-represented in the tech space.

Did you know that in Africa, women occupy only 21% of jobs in the tech industry? IT Entrepreneur and Founder of Khanyisa Real Systems, Lorraine Steyn, believes that women who join the tech industry, resign from their roles due to the long working hours and the high-pressured environment. Steyn told Ventureburn that women realize that they are behind their male colleagues right from the get go. “Women are excellent in the field, and we must look at grass-roots projects to give girls (and boys) access to technology at school level. We also need to ensure that businesses root out sexism in the workplace, so that we keep the women who enter the field.”

The list of challenges that women from all walks of life face in the work place, especially in the tech industry, is colossal. Many individual challenges faced by African women can be attributed to the following four concerns:

1. Unequal access to education

The backlash of patriarchal systems embedded within African cultures remains a factor as to why far fewer girls than boys receive education. And even when the girls are educated, the subject choices are channeled towards non-technical subjects as these are perceived as being more ‘useful’ for females in later life. Data on gender ratios related to education revealed that in South Africa, females attain higher levels of education than males in nearly all categories, but that factors contributing to unemployment in tech-related fields were linked to gender - and more specifically - being female.

Leading lady
When her hopes of furthering her career as a Developer in the US failed, the ever-ambitious 21-year-old Martha Chumo from Kenya founded her own developer school to help fellow African developers improve their skills through technology.

2. Constraining cultural stereotypes

Do you find that the stereotype regarding men as more capable workers still lurks within your community? In the past, the media played a big role in reinforcing gendered ideologies, typifying women as the nurturers who should occupy caregiving roles within the community, or roles which supported men in achieving their dreams. Roles such as nursing, early childhood development, being a receptionist or an assistant were jobs that were predominantly acceptable for women to occupy. But as advertisers and capable women in the tech space, we have the power to influence how the world perceives women, as well as the ability to promote women who can lead by example.

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Realizing the power that technology has in driving human potential, Founder of Soronko Solutions, Regina Honu, an enterprising Ghanian entrepreneur, started her own software development company in 2012. Honu has received the GPA Africa Award for Young Entrepreneur of the Year, she was named one of 12 inspiring women who rock Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) by CNN, and most recently partnered with Autism ambassadors of Ghana to launch the first Android App for Autism in West Africa.

3. Lack of access to finance

Nothing crushes dreams faster than lack of funds. Aside from not being able to afford the high cost of education, more than 60% of Africans don’t even have access to the internet, which would allow far more women the opportunity to explore and educate themselves on potential roles within STEM.

Leading Lady
Rainatow Sow, Founder of empowering African portal, Make Every Woman Count, champions equal rights for women and shares a side of Africa that’s hardly portrayed by international media. Sow grew up in the near-forgotten town of Fria in West Guinea, and faced financial woes when it came to funding her enterprise. Instead of giving up on the hopes she had for the business, she began hosting events to raise funds for her organization and has expressed that having a voice in important matters not only helps to attract funding but awards as well. Sow was listed as one of 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa by Forbes in 2012, she holds a master’s degree in International Relations and has worked with UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the International Organisation for Migration to name a few.

4. Dominant 'Old Boys' Network

But what happens when you have the education, skills, and the will to succeed, but don’t quite fit in? It’s not that women don’t want to work in tech, or even that they fear being excluded from cliquey ‘old school’ male conversations: it’s that women often have to choose between advancing their career or building a family, as few roles offer the flexibility required for parenthood.

Women are outnumbered by men in Tech and only 33% of senior management roles in tech companies within Africa are occupied by women. What’s worse is that this percentage is declining.

Leading Lady
Multiple award-winning South African entrepreneur, Thato Kgatlhanye believes that there’s no reason to knock on doors when you can build your own. At 21, Thato founded, Rathaka, a manufacturing company using recyclable plastic bags to make trendy schoolbags. When it came to finding the funds for her factory, she entered competitions that rewarded innovation.

Inspiration is all around us

A snapshot of top female CEOs in tech includes the following Leading Ladies who hold or have held key positions in global tech and digital organisations:

1. Sheryl Sandberg - COO, Facebook
2. Susan Wojcicki - CEO of Youtube
3. Ginni Rometty - CEO, IBM
4. Meg Whitman - CEO, Hewlett-Packard
5. Marissa Mayer - CEO, Yahoo
6. Safra Catz - Co-CEO, Oracle
7. Angela Ahrendts - SVP, Retail, Apple
8. Ursula Burns - Chair-CEO, Xerox
9. Ruth Porat - CFO, Google
10. Renee James - President, Intel
11. Amy Hood - Chief Financial Officer, Microsoft
12. Mary Meeker - General Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
13. Padmasree Warrior - Former Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, Cisco Systems
14. Weili Dai - Co Founder-President, Marvell Technology Group Ltd.
15. Jenny Lee - Managing Partner, GGV Capital

A home-grown leading female in digital, Desere’ Orrill, CEO of the Ole! Media Group, recently published an article on how gender distinctions in the workplace are changing. She believes that the traditional barriers for females in the workplace are being broken down – not only because of female solidarity, but also because the new generation of millennials is less hampered by gender distinction. This not only gives women the chance to shine their light with less fear of societal backlash, but also liberates men from the yoke of entitlement and empowers them to compete more fairly in the work place. Orrill has been named one of the most influential women in SA Digital Marketing and credits her productivity to her planning approach: think, test, do, and refine.

As African girls head into the classroom, they should receive the same opportunities as their male peers, in order to be exposed to opportunities that so many may not even know exist.

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