Reflections on being a Young Woman in Tech
Photo of the author
When I was in primary school, I was always amazed at how machines were used to mark our exams, compile results and rank us according to our marks. I would love to see how data can be used to make very useful, and thus have always wanted to pursue data analytics. I am fascinated by how critical decisions can be automized. I hope my dreams will come true one day.
I have been interested in technology from the moment I found out that when you have a computer, you can connect to anyone around the world; but when I was in primary school, what I really wanted was to be a pilot. Everyone in my family knew that I was an upcoming pilot. All through my journals, the word “pilot” was in bold and large text. I pictured myself flying the skies ever since I was seven years old. I grew up in the village loving airplanes and singing with the other children whenever we heard or saw a plane passing by. We always cried “Indegeit ne lel!” in my local language. It means “white airplane!” The song brought the village kids together in celebration, and in turn powered my ambition to become a pilot.
This dream, however, was short-lived. When I started high school, I learned that unlike other courses, piloting involved much more intensive — and expensive— training. It was not offered in universities like other courses, like biology and engineering, were. On top of this, I would have had to start my training while I was in high school. And everyone believed that women could not succeed, as it was considered “too technical” for us to understand.
This is how many women struggle to get into technology. In school, girls who show interest in technology courses are put off continuing, because they are regarded as “masculine” fields. This kills their dreams, leading to the low number of women in tech.
In Africa, engineering courses are male-dominated and the few women who do pursue these courses go unnoticed or are met with colloquialisms like “You have proven men enough”, which clearly does not appreciate their efforts as women, but accredits success to men.
In my opinion, girls who want to get into tech should be encouraged from a young age. Career guidance in schools should be revolutionized to accommodate both girls and boys in all career fields, and women should be empowered to pursue careers in tech. School curricula should be skills-based, so that girls’ passions and potential are built up while they’re still young.
Biases in recruiting and in the workplace has further undermined women’s progress in technology. Many women working in tech drop out early due to a hostile, male-dominated work culture that does not support women in defining their career paths. Policies that establish inclusive work environments should be put in place.
Inadequate finances are also a major hindrance to women who want to work in technology, killing dreams before they are born. My dream to become a pilot years ago died in this same way. Without the necessary financial support, women are excluded from tech and pursue cheaper career paths.
Governments and international bodies should set aside finances to support women in technology. Women who have been successful and impactful in technology should be awarded and encouraged to inspire other women.
This will go a long way toward realizing equality in tech.
About the Author
Stellah Serem is a 24-year old woman in tech from Kenya and a member of Global Scribes: Youth Uniting Nations. Stella has grown up in Kenya whole her life and has always aspired to be a woman whose words and deeds motivate those around her. She loves writing, debating and reading selected novels.
Stellah will graduate from the University of Nairobi, Kenya in December. She pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in commerce and specialised in business information systems.
She believes in a whole world of possibilities.
Photo credit: Stellah Serem.