Women in Tech: Missing in Action

Women’s participation is evident in all major sectors of the economy except in technology, where they are still very much in the minority, with reports showing that many shy away from applied sciences and instead opt for careers in public relations or administration.

According to AkiraChix, a Kenya-based society for women interested in technology, women make up less than 15 percent of the country’s tech workforce.

When Yahoo announced its new chief executive Marrisa Mayor, it was a departure from usual practices in a male-dominated industry. Most leading tech companies worldwide have yet to embrace women at the top level of management.

So why are women not a force to be reckoned with at most levels within tech companies? Caroline Muchai, whose app MobiPolls collects public views on the upcoming general elections, told HumanIPO that most ladies assume that tech is a man’s profession.

“Women feel intimidated,” she said. “It is hard to be accepted in the tech scene.”

Caroline Ngugi, the Business Development Manager at MedAfrica, a mobile medical app, could not agree more. She said tech is assumed to be dominated by men.

A 2010 report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) stated that a girl’s achievement in science, maths and technology is shaped by the environment around them. In Africa, there is a perception that boys are better at maths-related careers than girls, perhaps resulting in girls feeling discouraged to tackle such subjects and careers.

Ngugi reckons that there needs to be more female champions in tech to inspire other young women. This would give a guiding light to more ladies who want to jump into the tech scene, she says. Those women that have taken on the challenge and entered the sector have done tremendous jobs, especially in Africa.

Leaving the tech scene for men only means that there is no one developing apps that specifically talk to the needs of women.

Susan Oguya of M-Farm is one of the leading women in IT in Kenya. She and a few friends founded AkiraChix, in collaboration with Jessica Colaco, another leading female techie who heads the iHub Research in Nairobi.

“The goal was to get more women into tech and be an example for the next generation of ladies who wish to have someone they can look up to. The message we want to pass to the nation is that girls can be movers and shakers of technology in Africa,” Oguya said.

Her passion for technology stems from the support she got when she registered her interest. “I got my interest in tech when my father got that Pentium 3 desktop back in late 90s . I used it for basics like creating my siblings’ birthday invitation cards, doodling, and playing games,” she told HumanIPO.

“My parents and relatives got me basic books on computer studies later to improve my skills. I kept flipping the pages and as days went by my interest grew. I made up my mind to study IT in college and today I breathe, talk, and dream tech.”

This year, AkiraChix held a hackathon for ladies. The event, held on August 18 and 19, was aimed to bring together women from different backgrounds to come up with apps that are specifically for women.

The hackathon produced apps that address the needs of women. Apps such as WeightWatchers, StyleMe, WindowShoppers and Diet App B were created. But the most notable one was QTech, an app created to give tech event news to ladies, which won the overall prize in the competition.

“The aim of their Android application and web-based solution is to keep women in tech updated on relevant events, provide mentorship and encourage participation,” AkiraChix said. This is a positive move to try and get women involved in a male-dominated field.

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