Six Women of African Descent Making Major Moves at Global Tech Companies

ghost_okari, Monday October 30th 2017

Global tech companies aren't known for high levels of gender and ethnic diversity. Globally, only 36.1% of Uber’s workforce is female, according to their diversity report. However, they just appointed their first ever African-American female board member a month ago. Ursula Burns joined Arianna Huffington and Wan Martello as the third female board member at the ride-sharing giant.

Interestingly, given its recent scandals around sexism and poor corporate culture, Uber’s numbers are better than most: Facebook’s and Apple’s workforces are each 32% female. Diversity numbers are even smaller when looking at ethnicity. Globally, 8.8 % of Uber employees are of African descent, while at Facebook, Apple, Airbnb and Pinterest it’s 2%, 9%, 2.9% and 2% respectively.

However, the tide seems to be changing. Recently, a number of incredible women of African lineage have risen to influential positions in several Silicon Valley-based companies, where they are setting new standards and proving that it’s time for change.

Here are six African women making waves across the tech world.

[caption id="attachment_5708" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Nanjira Sambuli. (Photo: Web Foundation)[/caption]

Nanjira Sambuli (@NiNanjira),

Digital Equality Advocacy Manager, Web Foundation

A vocal opponent of Facebook’s Free Basics initiative, it didn’t come as a surprise when Web Foundation opted for Nanjira to lead their advocacy for digital equality efforts, with a focus on Women’s Rights Online. Prior to joining Web Foundation, Nanjira was Research Lead at the iHub in Nairobi, where she led the Umati project that monitored online sentiment around the 2013 national elections in Kenya.

Nanjira also writes a weekly column on technology in the Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading daily newspaper and has published a number of research papers on ICT and Governance in East Africa. She is one of the people behind SayNotoManelsKE, a campaign against having all male panels in Kenya. The initiative gave rise to a list of willing and qualified women who could be contacted for speaking engagements. Her contributions towards gender parity saw her appointed as deputy to the UN High Level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment.

Early this year, The East African, the region’s leading publication on business and policy analysis, celebrated her as one of the 25 heroines from East Africa whose initiatives have changed communities. Last year, the New African Magazine also listed her as one of the the 100 most influential Africans in 2016.

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Ebele Okobi (@EbeleOkobi), 

Africa Head of Public Policy, Facebook

According to CIPESA, a consortium of ICT policy analysts in East and Southern Africa, the cost of internet shutdowns in some African countries since 2015 has been $237 million. The Brookings Institute, on the other hand, estimates that internet shutdowns cost governments a total of $ 2.4 Billion in 2015.

With rising cases of web balkanization in renewed efforts by governments to rein in control on the blogosphere, tech companies have had to find alternative ways of doing business and engaging authorities in different countries globally. In Africa, some of the biggest challenges they face are connectivity and censorship. In an in depth case study, the New York Times writes:

“As nations try to grab back power online, a clash is brewing between governments and companies. Some of the biggest companies in the world — Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba among them — are finding they need to play by an entirely new set of rules on the once-anarchic internet.”

Efforts include the use of policy teams to engage governments. In some cases, these teams step in when governments shut down the internet. Ebele leads Facebook’s Policy team for Africa; in some quarters, she is referred to as Facebook’s Secretary of State for Africa. It wasn’t surprising therefore that she is the one who flew to Kinshasa when the DRC government shut the internet down for 15 days in the middle of anti-government protests, to help lift the ban.

Connectivity and access are close to Ebele’s heart. Before joining Facebook, Ebele served as the founding Global Head and Senior Legal Director for Human Rights at Yahoo!
“At 13, I learned what it meant to walk into a room and not care what everybody thinks of you.”

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NMACHI JIDENMA (@nmachijidenma)

Global Lead, Strategic Partnerships, Facebook

Nmachi has several achievements, but one of her first claims to fame on the internet was CP-Africa, a site she founded in 2009 to inspire herself and the African continent.  

“At the time, I couldn’t find a one-stop online destination where I could constantly inspire myself about interesting things going on across the continent.” She told in a 2013 interview.

CP-Africa grew into a top destination for content on all things technology and economic progress in Africa. Partly as a result of this, in 2012 Nmachi was named by CNN as one of the top ten technology voices to follow on twitter.

Soon after, she joined Google as Manager for Sub-saharan Africa, where she worked on the company’s connectivity initiatives in emerging markets. She left Google for Paypal, where she handled the company’s $1billion mobile portfolio and launched new verticals such as wearables and mobile transit. Currently, in her global role at Facebook, she handles strategic partnerships with financial service companies and helps come up with new payments products.

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Morin Oluwole (@MorinOluwole)

Head of Luxury at Facebook & Instagram

Morin moved away from a burgeoning medical career to work for Facebook when it was a small company with around 200 staff members, and she has been there for more than seven years.  Before coming on as Luxury Lead at Facebook and Instagram, she was Business Lead to the VP of Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, a role that saw her charged with developing strategic business solutions that aid in managing top client and agency relationships. In her current role, she manages Facebook and Instagram's luxury client partnerships.

She has served in other roles like managing strategic partners for Fashion/Luxury and, Product Marketing Manager for Facebook pages.

Morin was, last month, listed alongside 24 other women as the women to watch in the luxury world for 2018!

[caption id="attachment_5711" align="aligncenter" width="850"] Image: TechCrunch[/caption]

Bozoma Saint John (@badassboz)

Chief Brand Officer at Uber

At 13 years, Bozoma had two life-defining moments: she relocated with her family from Ghana to the US and, after being there for a short time, she learned to be confident in who she was.

“At 13, I learned what it meant to walk into a room and not care what everybody thinks of you,” she told the audience during Fortune’s  Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference last year.

It is this persona that she brought with her to Uber when she joined in June as its first ever Chief Brand Officer. Before Uber, Bozoma led marketing departments at Pepsi, Beats and Apple.

As head of the Music and Entertainment Marketing at Pepsi, Bozoma led the company’s foray into music festival-based marketing. At Apple, Bozoma came on stage during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference to present a redesigned Apple Music and captivated audiences globally with her persona.

Her recent appointment at Uber couldn’t have come at a better time, as the brand has been involved in a number of scandals centered around the diversity and sexism. Bozoma intends to bring the change Uber needs, as illustrated in her response during a Q&A with NY Times on whether she’d be able to change Uber’s reputation without changing the culture:

“I’m a woman, I’m black, I am passionate, I am transparent. The culture changes simply by being, right? It’s like any other thing where you change one molecule and the matter changes.”

The company has since replaced CEO Travis Kalanick with Dara Khosrowshahi, and appointed Ursula Burns, who became the first black woman to sit on Uber’s board.

[caption id="attachment_5716" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Image: CEO Watch[/caption]

Ebi Atawodi

Product Manager, Global Payments Growth, Uber

Ebi Atawodi has had a meteoric and admirable rise at Uber.  She joined Uber as GM of Nigeria in 2014 to help the company set up operations in Lagos.  After two years, she moved up the ranks and became the Uber GM for West Africa, a position she held until her June appointment as Product Manager, Global Payments Growth for Uber, a position based out of the Uber Amsterdam office.

Before Uber, she  was the Head of Corporate Communications and High Value Sponsorships at Etisalat. While there, she created the Etisalat Prize for Literature, the first-ever Pan-African prize that celebrates first-time African writers of published fiction books, as well as a music platform called Etisalat Cloud9.

Watch Ebi’s feature on CEO Watch from February 2016 where she talked about Uber in Nigeria here.

Of course, this is just but a snapshot of the African women out there whose initiatives are impacting the way we do business and share information. More women are stepping up to challenge the status quo by setting up their own businesses, and taking up roles in global companies and shining while at it. Entrepreneurship will play a big role in this, and where else is this more evident than in a place that is even more favorable to female entrepreneurs than Silicon Valley?