African Women In Tech: Stop The Labeling! We Are Entrepreneurs Too

Written by Tom Jackson

The dialogue around female tech entrepreneurs in Africa needs to change from usage of belittling terms such as “mompreneur” to focusing on promoting positive role models for others, according to female leaders in the sector who wish to see more African women in tech.

Though prominent female tech leaders do not object to discussion of the issues surrounding women in tech, the feeling is that in many cases the tone of the conversation is demeaning and patronizing.

“The discussion in the media is being framed within the male-work context,” said Sarah Rice, founder of tech and financial services PR firm Batstones, who added that she heavily objects to the term “mompreneur”.

“Can you imagine labeling Michael Jordaan a “dadpreneur” because he left corporate life and started something close to where his house was? It would never happen. The fact that women continue to have children and be parents while being business people is something that needs to be named and discussed and understood and picked apart because it doesn’t make sense in the current work context.”

She said it was her dream to listen to an interview with a female entrepreneur where there is no discussion of her relationship status, her family, or how she manages to balance everything.

“Warren Buffett has never been asked if his success has somehow reduced his ability to father – it’s not even in the question space,” Rice said.

“That isn’t to say that Warren doesn’t think about it – it’s just that as the readers of the articles, it is not something we need to know. By being successful the role of his entire gender is not called into question – so we leave that question where it so rightly belongs – in his personal life. We need to do the same for women.”

“Adding value”

Alexandra Fraser, chair of tech innovation community Silicon Cape and founder at Stonetree, agrees the tone of the discussion of women in tech is offensive.

“Highlighting tech entrepreneurs, who happen to be female, is important as we need role models to other women who would like to enter the sector, to start their own businesses and become leaders in our ecosystem. Diversity in any industry is vital,” she said.

“What I find particularly insulting is boxing business women into categories largely defined by other aspects of their lives, and not by their industry or skill. I am an entrepreneur, add value to the industry and am successful because of hard work and skill, not because I am female.”

Rice believes, however, that it is important the dialogue continues until “we feel that there is no conversation left”.

“The fact we have to talk about it means there is a problem. Why don’t we talk about men in business? Because there isn’t a problem here. Why don’t we talk about the plight of fathers in the workplace? Because there are no collective problems here,” she said.

“Change the context”

“What is offensive to me is that we keep on talking about it without any sense that the context needs to change. Women need to change – we need to lean in, lean out, have children, not have children, find balance, be strong, learn to delegate… When was the last time we had a conversation about how business needs to change to adapt and accommodate women?”

She said there were no practical reasons why a woman could not open a tech company, but there were reasons why some women are not able to conceive of doing so.

“We can’t think about women in tech or women in business the way we consider men. The context is different.”

Rebecca Enonchong, founder of AppsTech and co-founder of the Cameroon Angels Network (CAN), said she is not sure she is treated differently because of her gender.

“I do know that sometimes when I am with male colleagues people tend to start talking to them first. But generally, after they know me, I feel respected,” she said.

Enonchong pointed to the amount of progress made, with the emergence of women-only tech hubs and women tech groups across Africa.

“We’re also seeing more success stories in media involving women in tech. That’s great news because more young women will be able to identify with role models, encouraging them to choose that line of work,” she said.