Last year, for Social Media Week in Lagos, I organized CODE RED, an event that convened African women entrepreneurs in tech and media. The experience of watching women connect across sectors, exchange ideas, share experiences, and swap business cards was magical, inspiring, fulfilling. For this year’s Social Media Week (themed “Upwardly Mobile”), I hoped for a similar space and, so far, the program does not disappoint.
The first panel I attended – Face the Facts: Lessons from Leading African Women Entrepreneurs in Tech – was described as “a discussion on practical strategies for women and tech companies seeking more women talent,” featured a refreshing mix of women tech professionals and entrepreneurs, including:
- Ethel Cofie (featured on CNN as founder of Women in Tech, Ghana and Edel Technologies)
- Ugochi Ugbomeh (co-owner of Tranzit Nigeria, a local TaxiApp)
- Nkemdilim Begho (CEO of IT solutions company, Futuresoft Nigeria)
- Lola Olusola (founder of fashion e-commerce platform, Ella.ng).
Though the panel was only an hour long — which definitely impeded a deeper (and, honestly, more authentic and vulnerable) conversation about key challenges faced by women in the tech industry in Nigeria (another post, another day) — each of the panelists managed to offer the audience at least one nugget of wisdom acquired from successfully (and unsuccessfully) navigating their careers as women in male-dominated spaces. I’ve shared a few of them below, with a few of my own… Enjoy.
1. Tech and “Masculine” Aren’t Synonyms, No Need to “Man Up”
The FutureSoft CEO’s accounts of having her interest in technology constantly questioned (and, at times, dismissed) due to her very feminine gender presentation was poignant, and refreshing; I’ve seen way too many women entrepreneurs dress more “masculine” in an attempt to dissociate themselves from femininity’s (ill)perception as frivolous, unsubstantive, and less intelligent, than stand up to this harmful stereotype. (Funny, since I am yet to hear about women with more masculine gender presentations enjoying sexism-free careers, but hey…). Fact: Whether in heels, power suits, gender masculine or gender non-conforming ensembles, African women founders and CEOs are on the rise all across the continent.
2. Succeeding in Tech Isn’t Just About Knowing How to Code
Of all the women on the panel, the co-owner of Tranzit Nigeria (a local taxi app) seemed to be the most tech savvy (to me at least). Perhaps that’s why most of her remarks focused on the importance of developing other non-tech skills necessary for business. She encouraged women interested in careers in technology to adopt the habit of constantly assessing and investing in the development of broader skill sets. Her comment underscored an oft overlooked fact about tech businesses, which is that they are still businesses; women in tech need to acquire – or at least familiarize themselves with a range of skills (such as people management, finance & accounting, marketing etc) to grow, and ultimately succeed.
3. Knowing (Enough Of) Your Shit Is Enough
African women entrepreneurs in tech should be wary of imposter syndrome (an irrational worry that they won’t measure up if they don’t credential-up). Every single one of the panelists mentioned developing deeper technical expertise as a necessary path to success. I don’t necessarily disagree, but, in my humble opinion, there was almost a little too much emphasis placed on education and credentials, and not enough on raw talent, or even experiential learning. It makes sense that in order to combat the gender discrimination rampant in the tech industry, many women place more emphasis on the acquisition of technical skills and credentials higher than their male counterparts, focusing mainly on their shortcomings over their accomplishments. “You need to know your shit to compete” is often the mantra, and justification for passing up valuable opportunities. I offer an alternate: “Know (enough of) your shit, then go for it.”
4. Create a Support Network
Almost all of the panelists shared their positive experiences reaching out to other women – and men! – for advice and/or ongoing mentorship. The founder of Women in Tech Ghana expressed deep appreciation for a prominent long-time mentor in her life, and both the CEO of FutureSoft and Founder of Ella.ng cosigned the importance of seeking both emotional and financial support from friends and family. But just as a strong inner circle can be crucial to staying motivated, so can colleagues and acquaintances be to staying grounded. The co-owner of Tranzit Nigeria reminded the audience that reaching out to peers for constructive criticism – even if they happened to be outside one’s industry – could lend invaluable perspective.
Check Out These Other Awesome Women-Friendly #SMWLagos Events:
- Arts. Tech. Here: Technology & Social Media Changing the Arts Industry in West Africa
- Smart Mobile Divas
- Where Are the Women? (Examining the Lack of Women Developers in the Nigerian Technology Ecosystem)
- #SMWFootball: Ladies First! Social Media & The Future For Women In Football
- Music in Africa presents: a Celebration of 90 years of Nigerian Popular Music.
- Our Story – Connecting & Teaching Nigerian History with Social Media
The full schedule is available on Social Media Week Lagos’ website here.