How Technology is Educating and Empowering WomenMarch 8th we celebrated International Women’s Day. It is a day set aside to focus on women’s rights and to celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women across the world. This year’s theme was #PressForProgress, a strong call to motivate and unite communities across the globe to think, act and be gender inclusive.
To celebrate this day, the MEST Incubator Lagos hosted a special Community Conversations event titled #PressForProgress: How Technology is Educating and Empowering Women. This event, hosted in partnership with Injini, Africa’s first EdTech dedicated Incubator,included a candid discussion about women’s issues especially with respect to the role that technology plays in their education and empowerment.
Discussion was led by a panel of successful female entrepreneurs, including: Yetty Williams- Founder, Lagos Mums, Ada Osakwe - Founder, Nuli, Keturah Ovio- Founder, Qeturah.com, Chika Uwazie- COO, EnterFive and Jovita Madojemu- Founder, Pundit Bookkeeping Services. The moderator was Injini Co-founder, Jamie Martin.
Here are some highlights from the discussion.
[caption id="attachment_6555" align="aligncenter" width="665"] The panelists and the moderator, Jamie Martin.[/caption]
How has technology enabled your career development and business?
Ovio- Technology has definitely been a huge part of my life. I consider myself a techie first and founder second. I studied Software engineering in university and every job I have done after has pretty much been in the tech space so technology has definitely shaped who I am as a professional.
As a founder, I run an online marketplace, and my business wouldn’t have existed a few years ago before the technologies which enable eCommerce. Tech helps us aggregate buyers, sellers and suppliers and bring products to customers.
Uwazie- I have always been exposed to technology, from an early age. My dad was the first Nigerian to head IBM so very early in life I began to see tech as a means to problem-solving. After studying Strategic Human Capital Management, I began to think of how technology could solve the problems in that space. This led me to found Talentbase, which I later exited. In my current role as COO of EnterFive, we are looking at how to solve payment issues using blockchain technology.
Osakwe- I have always seen technology as a great enabler. I am in the food business, and my company, Nuli, is a manufacturer of healthy beverages that utilize locally sourced fruits and vegetables from farms across Nigeria. We also have a wide range of other products which we sell from different branches. Technology has helped me transform my business and allows me to have greater control and visibility. I can easily access my sales in real time using cloud-based sales software and also manage my inventory.
I also have the ability to take time off work and still collaborate with my staff via platforms such as Slack.
Williams- There is a saying that in Africa, it takes a whole village to raise a child. I think that saying is still true, but for this age I say, why not an eVillage? This is what I created with Lagos Mums. It is a large, thriving community of mothers looking for answers about how to raise their kids and what products to purchase for their families. With technology, I am able to make mothering a better experience for busy mothers across the city of Lagos and beyond.
Madojemu- Technology practically helped me teach myself a new business! After several years in banking and financial services, I was disenchanted with my job and sought to find something else to do. As a trained accountant, I began to research starting my own accounting consultancy. All this research was online. I taught myself how to use different accounting softwares and solutions and acquired the skills to handle the accounting functions for corporate organizations.
Technology has also allowed me to seek, acquire and manage customers from different parts of the world. We can send and receive all our transactions easily regardless of distance and time.
What are the challenges you have faced as a female entrepreneur and what can be done about them?
Ovio- The biggest challenge is being viewed as second best. People tend to assume that as a woman, you are not as smart or as competent as a man. Sometimes when I talk about my background, people act surprised as if being a woman means I can not be a software engineer. I have realised that as a woman, you have to be confident in yourself and always ready to prove that you are as smart and as hardworking as any man.
Uwazie- There are very few women running software businesses, so that can be a challenge. It would be great to have more women in this line of business so you can build partnerships with them. I have a friend who had a sizeable amount of funds to invest in female software entrepreneurs, but she had difficulty finding any!
More women need to enter traditionally male-dominated industries because the data shows that women bring incredible insight, and multi-gender teams tend to be more creative. It is natural that women would have some unique needs so companies need to also be sensitive enough to make provision for this. These needs include things like feeding rooms for nursing mothers.
Ada- Every year we throw out a lot of data about how women can add value to businesses by raising wages and improving productivity, but not much is done after. What would really help is for more men to be vocal about how amazing women are and the positive experiences they have with women to help shift these preconceptions. Women need to dispense with the idea that they are somehow entitled to privileges simply because they are women. This idea works against the push for equal opportunities.
Williams- For me I often find myself being underrated because I am a woman, but I prefer to see it as a strength than as a weakness. When I go into a meeting armed with solid research and competence, I realise that I tend to surpass the expectations of people who did not expect much from me.
Madojemu- Personally, I haven’t had any challenges related to my gender. I am of the opinion that women should not be scared to raise the bar. Sometimes as women, we hear how we cannot do this and that. I have seen women embrace such cultural bias and start underperforming because they think it is ok. Women should ignore the social conditioning that has tried to put them in a box. We should strive for the highest levels of performance everytime and not make excuses.
Parents also need to treat children equally. The narrative that a girl belongs in the kitchen and boys should be out playing football needs to stop. If you teach a guy to fix a lightbulb, teach a woman too!
What technologies are you most excited about and why?
Ovio- I am excited about blockchain technology. I think it has the potential to be a part of everything we do and I believe that it will create more job opportunities. I hope women will become a big part of this.
Uwazie- For me, I would say Cryptocurrency. It has the power to create a new level of financial independence and empowerment. I think women who learn about this technology will be better prepared for such opportunities in the future.
Osakwe- I am excited about Automation and Artificial intelligence. These two technologies will change the way things are done and the number of people required to do certain jobs. A lot of the jobs that will first disappear are actually those done by women. So as we push for gender equality we need to push for greater empowerment to be prepared for the changing face of business.
Williams- I am very excited about AI too. It makes stuff a lot easier, and I can only imagine what the future holds for us. However, I think we need to be deliberate in protecting our children because future advancements also increase the risk of what they are exposed to.
[caption id="attachment_6556" align="aligncenter" width="665"] Attendees at MEST Lagos Community Conversations with Injini[/caption]
MEST Incubator Lagos organizes regular conversations around relevant topics that are aimed at enlightening and educating entrepreneurs navigating the startup landscape. On the 10th of April, we’ll hold our seventh Masterclass titled How to build a digital tribe and transform it into a thriving business. It will be led by Afua Osei, Co-founder of She Leads Africa. Register here!
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