Women are making some remarkable breakthrough in the Nigerian technology startup industry, Ugo Aliogo reports
The Nigerian technology startup industry is an industry dominated by men; but with increased awareness and interest, more women are coming into the industry and creating amazing technology solutions to address societal needs.
According to a study by Africa Renewal, a United Nations publication, it was noted that even in the most developed countries, the computer field is disproportionately dominated by men.
The study also noted that a 2012 US Department of Labour survey reported that women in the US comprised 30 percent of web developers, 25 percent of programmers, 37 percent of database administrators, 20 percent of software developers, and a little over 10 percent of information security analysts.
To put the issue in proper perspective, THISDAY spoke to the Co-founder and Vice President of Product Delivery Science, Dr. Oluwatoyin Oshinowo. Delivery Science is a technology startup that helps large organisations get data, visibility and control from the field.
Oshinowo said that the startup phenomenon is an ongoing activity because a lot of individuals have realised that the job market is not working for them, and the spaces available in the market may not appreciate an individual and his values. “Therefore, the individual realises this and decides to startup on their own,”she noted.
Her argument was hinged on the fact that there are more men in technology startups than women because, from a societal viewpoint, a man is seen as the breadwinner of the family, and as such, he has to invent technology-driven solutions and products to sell, in order fend for the family, “women on their part have this hustle mentality.”
Oshinowo argued that the presence of women in the technology startup is not new, because there is now searchlight being beamed on the technology space, and the place of women is now being seen. She also noted that in most startups, there is always a woman who is either a project manager or developer, adding that they prefer to stay behind the scene.
The viewpoint of the Co-founder, Piggy BankNG, Odunayo Eweniyi, is slightly different from Oshinowo’s. Eweniyi remarked that the industry has experienced an influx of women who are breaking grounds in the technology ecosystem.
She explained that it is an amazing time for the female folks who are aware of the gaps in the sector to work in bridging the gap. “We are seeing the rise of female-focused accelerators, and there’s a lot of push for gender balance across technology. It’s a massive improvement from just a couple of years ago,” she noted.
From the standpoint of the Managing Director, Mines Nigeria, Adia Sowho, the argument is that the startups in Nigeria are not much, but that nonetheless, there are a few women in some of the technology driven startups companies.
She explained that working in the technology space does not necessarily imply that the individual has a technical background, stating that the number of women in the space is appreciable. “And they are making remarkable breakthroughs. I think when you get to more of technical roles, there is a shortage period; we don’t have enough men and women, really,” Sowho observed.
Driving Women Inclusion in Technology Startups
In driving women’s inclusion in technology startups, Eweniyi posited that girls are often interested in technology, but face barriers in primary and secondary school and even in University and the workplace. She added that the first step is dismantling preconceived notions about what boys and girls can do and destroying the destructive concept that women don’t belong in technology.
“Then, we need to realise that there are women in the technology space. There is therefore, the need to encourage them to excel in order to mentor others. The only way to get more girls and women into technology is to show support to the existing ones so that they can pave the way for others. Don’t just add more women to your organisation, put women in positions of authority where they can be leaders and role models,” she noted.
Sowho also said in driving inclusion for women, there is the need for increased adoption and use of technology in every sector of the economy, in order to drive the interest of women in the technology space.
She said, “Technology is the underlining enabler of every field. I think it is not enabling enough industries and when it starts enabling enough industries, we will start to see its penetration increase and we will see more women in that space. Technology is not one person’s problem; therefore, everyone needs to embrace it. I think both the private sector and government needs to champion continuous use of technology, especially when we are trying to create the infrastructure for a sector.”
From Oshinowo’s standpoint, the argument is that in the Western world, there are organisations that focus on women led startups in order to support and grow these startups. She explained that if government is committed in making the technology space attractive to women, it has to start from secondary schools.
Oshinowo further advised that government should make the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects more interesting for students to study. “You will be able to bring in more women into the space. I don’t think there is a challenge confronting women in the technology space. First and foremost, I think it is the interest in technology-driven subjects should be nurtured,” she stated.
Challenges Facing Women in the Technology Startup Space
Eweniyi explained that the technology industry is hindered by unconscious biases that warp perceptions, which she noted is a major problem, adding that the sector would continue to lose top talents “and remain one-sided if we don’t make significant progress in changing the ratios.”
She also stated that by several measures, the industry is stagnating or even moving backwards especially in achieving greater equity for women, adding that diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords; they should be actual realities that must be considered first, “second, people must begin to address the unconscious biases in their hiring processes.”
In her response, Sowho remarkedthat one of the challenges confronting women is limited opportunities, stating that if the opportunities available for the women, they would make use of it.
She explained that once the woman is free to pursue an education, and they are able to recognise the presence of other women in those spaces, more women would naturally come into such spaces.
Sowho said, T”here are some smart women doing technical roles. Therefore, if the opportunities are there and the environment permits women to come in, they will be able to work. I think when people are hiring, they should find it significant to hire women in order to bring about diversity in thinking and make their solution more robust. Women don’t need any special training to be in technology, the training for men is the same as the one for women. What is important is the work environment; if it is the work environment welcomes them more women will come. But what you have in other environment is that it is male-dominated and it is not attractive to women.”
Internet Penetration in Africa and the Rise of Women Technology Experts
According to Africa Renewal, despite the growth of internet usage in Africa over the last decade, about 10 percent of the continent has access to the internet. The report which was conducted by the Internet World Stats said the low diffusion on the continent is certain to hinder efforts by efforts by Africans especially girls to becoming coding professionals.
Eweniyi said while internet penetration in Africa has been gathering pace over the past five years, there has been a long way to go, adding it stands at 21.8 percent of the population – much lower than other continents. She also stated that Nigeria is trying to meet up and there is hope the industry would get it right with more focused and deliberate efforts.
For Sowho, the viewpoint is slightly different; her argument is that in using internet the focus is mainly on affordability. She noted that to subscribe for an internet service, an individual must be able to afford it and understand why using the internet is of benefit to the individual.
She added that the use cases needs to be there for people to get on the internet, noting that if the use cases are not there, the internet penetration would remain very low, “it is a combination of affordability of the phone, access to the internet and usability.”
Oshinowo said in the area if internet penetration in the Africa, the focus should be on the infrastructure, adding that most of the individuals on the continent gain to access to the internet are through mobile and added the power outage in Nigeria has not been sorted out.
She explained that running most of the mobile towers, companies spend so much on liquefied natural gas at an exorbitant rate, stating that another factor that would help the service providers justify the commercial expense of the mobile tower and keep it open, they have to examine the number of individuals in a particular area who are subscribers to such services.
According Oshinowo, “So what inevitably happens is that in those areas where they don’t have many individuals, they don’t put towers in there because they cannot commercially justify the expense of having a tower. Internet penetration in areas where you don’t have many people is non-existent. Let’s look at the ISPs, distribution is a major problem in this country. In solving the problem, we need to address the power problem in the country that brings down the cost of maintaining the towers.
“Once we have addressed that we can then talk about putting these towers in places that don’t have it. To increase internet penetration in the country, it does not have to come from the companies. It has to be a government led initiative. I don’t think our government is forward thinking when it comes to technology.”