April 21, 2022

African women in technology

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Across all industries and roles, women are promoted at a slower rate than men. According to the McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report, only 86 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men at the same level. In technology, the gender gap is bigger – only 52 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men. In addition, women make up a smaller portion of the tech bubble than their male counterparts, sitting at a staggering 14% in software engineering and 25% of computer science-related roles according to Built In’s research.

In Africa, women are about 30% of the continent’s tech professionals. Techpoint Africa’s West African Startup Decade Report 2020 estimates that between 2010 and 2019, only 10% of West African startups with a female co-founder raised over $1 million. But the percentage of their presence is on the rise, which can be traced, in part, to women techies establishing a path for future generations to step over “the broken rung” on the career ladder. Evidently, these initiatives are largely built on a wholesome support system that connects women in tech, including a wider ‘Women in STEM’ network of professionals working to improve mentorship and networking capabilities.

Talking about its programs for African women in 2021, the Co-founder at Ingressive for Good, Blessing Abeng, explained that the organisation has developed a 3-year focus on partnerships and initiatives that will help women achieve equality in the tech ecosystem. “We took a risk last year because it was not a “nice-to-have”, but a ‘must-have’ program”, she said. “Women occupying only 30% of tech roles is not a great thing, especially when you realise that the population of women is higher than that of men globally. This is Ingressive for Good’s action: We want to empower women with the skills they need, so they can confidently take up roles in tech. It’s not a one-time activity, it is something to which we are committed”.

But apart from these programs, the question still remains: how can stakeholders – experts, governments, investors, NGOs – help women achieve equality in the tech ecosystem?. As captured by Ingressive For Good, an Ed-tech initiative with two female co-founders, it is about action! Once again, it calls on a previous statement by Tumi Meyatswe, former Ecosystem Manager at The Silicon Cape Initiative and Founder of Minderz, who stated that it was time for organisations to move on from the ‘trend’ of providing women with opportunities in order to fill quotas or as PR stunts, as opposed to humanising the processes and removing gender bias altogether.

How can Africa achieve this? Ms. Litha Musyimi-Ogana, the special advisor to the President of the Pan African Parliament, previously expressed the necessity to replicate success stories and upscale initiatives giving women a level playing field and equipping them with the necessary resources to excel in their careers: “If it works, replicate and upscale it”. In 2021 alone, Ingressive For Good helped 1000 women in Sub-Saharan Africa build design skills to challenge the gender gap in the tech space, with another 1000 to be supported this year. Under the 1000 Women In Design scholarship in partnership with Geneza School of Design, women in over 44 African countries can secure tech jobs, earn 3x more than what they were used to, and improve their lifestyles. According to the organisation, it is another way to expand women’s access to design education and break bias, stereotypes and discrimination.

But it goes beyond the enduring conversations about gender. A McKinsey research has shown that a strong relationship exists between diversity on leadership teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance for companies: the most gender-diverse companies are 48 percent more likely to outperform the least gender-diverse companies. “I strongly believe that companies need to move from thinking about the diversity of gender to the diversity of thought and approach to overcome affinity bias”, said Megha Yethadka, Senior Director, Program Management, Tech at Uber. “We can also systematically solve this by applying the Rooney Rule during hiring for all key open roles, investing in unconscious bias training etc. Solving for more women in STEM is a long-term plan but corporate mentoring, campus engagement and lateral hiring can work wonders”.

To help support women in tech, 78% of women say companies should promote more women into leadership positions. Haneefah Abdurrahman Lekki, the programme coordinator at Ingressive for Good, which offers micro-scholarships, training and talent placement and manages a community of over 15,000 members, explained that “businesses complain about the absence of quality technical talents in Africa and we are working to fix that. Our goal is to build the number-one most engaged tech community in Africa,” she says.

There is a strong possibility that the goal could be quickly achieved. In 2022, Ingressive For Good announced its intention to train thousands of African youths in data science and analytics with DataCamp; over 100,000 youth in software development loading, including the 1000 women in design across 80+ countries already unveiled. The promises are endless, and organisations also have to hire women for entry-level roles and nurture talent by upskilling or re-skilling to enable them to take on additional responsibilities, thereby breaking new grounds for not women, but tech development in Africa.