A captivating Harvard Business School research, led by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman opines that women are better managers of crisis, or simply put, women are better leaders. A record 41 women are leading companies featured in the globally-acclaimed Fortune 500 companies today, with a meager representation of two black women. While global standards are shifting with regards to the place of women in the workplace. The tech community, especially in Africa is not changing much.
While funding has exceeded $3 billion to Africa this year, a recent report by Briter Bridges, In Search of Equity, paints the sordid picture of funding disparities in Africa’s startup ecosystem as it relates to gender inclusion. Some of the key findings of their research show that female founders receive but a small fraction of total investment in African tech firms, are underrepresented in sectors that attract the most funding, exhibit a poor confidence gap relative to male founders, and are more likely to empower other women like themselves through employment.
A more glaring realization is that few women are represented in tech. And, in a continent that boasts of the largest representation of women entrepreneurs, a majority of these stalwart businesswomen are not enabling their businesses through tech and are ill-equipped in tech skills. The funding disparities can be easily traced to this poor representation of ‘tech sisters’.
The devastating implications of these are that, as the future of global and African business is being developed and driven through technology, many technological solutions are missing the balance of perspectives that a woman at the table would bring. It is, therefore, possible that these solutions are one-sided, serving a market of men.
HerTechTrail: Solving the gender gap in tech
Passionate about bridging this gap, Gloria Ojukwu, is one dynamic tech entrepreneur and product manager, who through HerTechTrail, is providing answers to the challenges for women across Nigeria and Africa. She realizes that many women in the country are making significant entrepreneurial contributions to problems but are not leveraging technology enough to blitz-scale their ideas. As she points out,
One of our focuses is on ladies in the business. The thing is if one is not digitally positioned, whatever business one is doing, one is bound to lag behind. So, we offer women tech and digital skills coaching, so that they know that their business does not have to remain a small business and can leverage tech and digital innovations so that they can upgrade to becoming a startup (tech-enabled business).
We help African ladies to ship their amazing ideas through digital technology, as these are not meant to end up as small businesses alone.
With a love for entrepreneurship and product management, Gloria is more than equipped to assist and support female-led businesses across the country and Africa. Through HerTechTrail’s programs, women across Nigeria, Ghana as well as some African women overseas not only get access to quality tech education but mentorship also. The community has a hybrid academy that began as only a community of ladies keen on building and growing sustainable tech careers. As they progressed, they found the need to educate women on skills outside the narrow fields of programming, web development, and product design, to other profitable skills like photography and videography. These latter skills do not require women with laptops to learn and grow adequately on ways to make a living for themselves.
Without a doubt, research shows that part of why women-led startups are raising comparatively little funds to their male counterparts is because they are not much represented in sectors performing well in drawing huge investments. Still, women are generally found in sectors that are making the most impact on social and economic development. With investors shifting focus on investments that meet environmental, social, and governance (ESG) expectations, it is hoped that underinvested sectors may capture greater interest. Relevantly so, businesses and startups within these sectors are more primed for sustainability, as they address key social problems.
As Gloria stresses,
We need companies to realize the importance of gender inclusion. We train a lot of ladies. We are currently training about 70+ ladies in the present cohort of the academy, as the initial cohort was about 100+ prior to screening. We have a good number of ladies who know what they are doing. Some of them may not be experts, yet they would offer a lot of value as juniors or interns and get to grow rapidly in technology and digital fields in general.
How HerTechTrail’s contributions can be made easier
While the efforts of HerTechTrail are more than reaping benefits in partnerships with tech hubs and companies, where these women get to intern, there is still much that could be offered to help. The global objective in bridging gender gaps, which is goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is one of which HerTechTrail is seeing to fruition through her efforts. This is not merely a human rights issue, but more importantly, a tremendous waste of the world’s human potential.
The most underutilized assets on the African continent are women…I would like us to continue to see more funding go to female-founded businesses, and also businesses that have an impact on women in general.
Rightly so, a significant challenge that the dynamic startup, HerTechTrail faces is the dearth of funding. Through personal funding and FFF (Family, Friends, and Fools) funds, the startup has been thriving, offering these outstanding opportunities for development to women for free within her academy.
The women that come to us are very positive because they don’t believe that there are such women in tech community academies dedicated to them, and tuition fees totally free. Most of the communities out there that do similar things don’t have dedicated academies but just general communities with mentorship. But as an academy, we have a professional curriculum and coaches where you come to learn, just like a school. After each training, we place one in mentorship till one’s first job or one sets up a tech business.Gloria Ojukwu, Founder, HerTechTrail
With six partners actively giving back through the startup’s HerTechHero program, many courses and program fees are catered for, through organizations and private individuals. Through their platform, therefore, individuals who wish to contribute financially to addressing this gap proactively can lend support with the course and program fees. These enable the startup to ensure that these educational programs are run for free for the participating women.
Setting out to introduce 15,000 more African ladies to tech
With over 250 ladies trained in the dedicated hybrid academy, and over 500+ in mentorship and online reach, HerTechTrail does not wish to rest on its oars. It is intending to branch out, in physical hubs, to five more African countries, and train over 15,000 ladies in tech by 2025. From these numbers, HerTechTrail is taking up remarkably the gender inclusion challenge, for African women in tech. Through their outreach, the startup also hopes to enable access to tech tools, such as laptops for women, and data support to carry out their work.
These audacious steps in a key area of concern globally, in tech, is one that deserves applause for the significant strides in tackling the gender gap problem in tech for Africa. Also, it is one that makes a clarion call to stakeholders in the African tech ecosystem to be more deliberate in policies and actions that include women, and foster gender parity.