Girl Geek Fights Female Stereotypes In African Technology

Girl Geek Fights Female Stereotypes In African Technology

Africa’s technology revolution has inspired many young entrepreneurs, but women are
under represented and subject to stereotypes, says Ugandan social entrepreneur Evelyn Namara.

Africa needs more female role models in technology to encourage more young women
to enter the field. Female participation in technology is increasing in Africa, but gender stereotypes still prevail, Namara said in a report in HowWeMadeItInAfrica.

Namara is East Africa regional manager for tech company Beyonic and a founding member of Girl Geek Kampala, a forum that hopes to erase stereotypes against women in technology.

Evelyn Namara Photo: How We Made It In Africa
Evelyn Namara
Photo: How We Made It In Africa

Women in Africa need thick skin and mentorship to succeed in Africa’s male-dominated technology industry, Namara said. But girls must understand that technology is an open field and anyone can participate.

“We have had so many women who were…afraid of technology come up in Uganda and across the continent and do great things,” she told HowWeMadeItInAfrica. “We don’t want to be favored. We want to be hired on merit and go out there and compete.”

Low female representation in technology is not unique to Africa, according to the report. In Silicon Valley, California, women make up 6 percent of CEOs in the top 100 tech companies and 22 percent of software engineers at tech companies, according to National Center for Women and Information Technology research. One study shows women make up 8 percent of venture-backed tech startups.

Women should not adopt a victim mentality despite Africa’s prevailing gender gap and discrimination. “You have to rise above that,” Namara said. “I always tell women to step up and stop feeling the victim … for so long women would come together to talk about the stereotypes and stigma. Where we are today, we shouldn’t feel like victims; we should pursue the opportunities available.”

Girl Geek Kampala is one of several forums in Africa that encourage female participation in technology. These forums connect students, early-stage entrepreneurs and industry leaders, and play a critical role in helping women step up in the industry, Namara said.

“When you come together, you share different opportunities and there is an element of being your sister’s keeper in that if someone is good at web design, I could link them with a
company hiring. Those connections are quite useful,” she said.

When she started her career in 2003, Namara said there was about 15-percent female representation in African technology. “I was questioned on why I was going to a place to fix a server because I am girl,” she said. That motivated Namara to find out why there were so few women in the space and how that could change.

Namara recalled a 2006 incident when she worked for a software support company that helped businesses set up their servers. When she arrived at one job site, the head of IT was shocked that her employer had sent “a small girl.” The manager called Namara’s boss and said he was afraid their data would be lost.

“I could see so many doubts in his mind,” Namara said. “I felt sad.” She was judged incapable of doing a job based on gender by someone who didn’t know her, she said. “My boss was my biggest cheerleader and he insisted that I should be given a chance…When I did the job, the IT head was shocked and humbled. He asked for my number and often called to ask for solutions every time they had problems.”

The experience taught Namara to be perfect in her job. “The stereotypes are discouraging,” she said. “If you have a low self-esteem you will never go to work.
Girls need to know that it will be tough sometimes and people are going to judge you to your face. You just have to build up a tough skin.”