'Women in tech should concentrate on everyday solutions'

Zimbabwe women’s tech think tank founder says people should refrain from trying to come up with the next Facebook

Tags: Techwomen, Zimbabwe (www.techwomenzim.com/)The Meera Kaul Foundation (www.meerakaul.com)United Arab EmiratesZimbabwe
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'Women in tech should concentrate on everyday solutions' Mlambo: "In developing countries we are looking for relevance, not just for fun, we want things that are going to solve the reality of the situation that people are in."
By  Helen Gaskell Published  January 18, 2015

According to the World Bank, 4.1% firms in the MENA region have a female as the top manager and 15.8% firms in Sub-Saharan Africa. The technology sector has been traditionally dominated by men, and women are increasingly trying to change this.

Last week saw the second annual Women in STEM conference held in Dubai, which attracted over 300 women from the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Rumbidzayi Mlambo, founder and director, Techwomen Zimbabwe, IFZ spoke to ITP.net about how the technology companies can encourage more women into the field.

According to Mlambo, women are "problem and solution driven", they relate to the things that they care about the most, whether it's to do with their families, the general economy or social aspects. The reason that women shy away from the technology sector is because they do not always see a direct link between a problem and how technology can solve it.  

Mlambo believes that it is easy for women to relate with the impact that medical science makes on people's lives, they can see people getting better and are therefore more attracted to that field, so if technology companies made people more aware of how technology can transform peoples' lives then women would be more attracted to working for them: "When you talk to women, they say picture sharing is not really relevant to me, it is there and it is nice but I'd rather be able to talk to someone who can give me advice on something and help with the everyday challenges that I face.

"Investors in my country do not look at social applications or social technology, they are trying to look for the next big Facebook or the next Twitter, no one is looking at the reality of women, what they want and what can improve their lives."

She also said that developing countries are where more money could be made and investors should focus on this: "I think a lot of people don't feel that social apps will make billions of dollars, but we have billions of people in developing countries and high mobile penetration rates. People are actually using mobile phones and mobile based solutions more than computers, this could make the billions. In developing countries we are looking for relevance, not just for fun, we want things that are going to solve the reality of the situation that people are in."

Women today are choosing to have families before going into education, meaning that financially things can be more difficult when they do decide to concentrate on their career. Mlambo believes that for women in Zimbabwe there needs to be more mentorship programmes and support for women wanting to work in technology as well as more funding for education.

She also believes that there are less opportunities for women as going to school and being a mother is very difficult as they cannot go out of the country and pursue a scholarship and leave their children at home. Similarly, women miss out promotions as it means they will be expected to spend more time at work and jobs which involve a lot of travelling.

Having spent some time in Dubai for the conference, Mlambo is impressed with how far women have come in the technology world here and hopes to emulate this in Africa:  "In the UAE I've only seen a small section of the community but I feel it is much better here, women have accomplished a lot more than we have in Africa and have achieved high tech jobs and their qualifications are really wide spread. Women are able to excel here, they have taken more strides and are growing more than we have in my country."

Mlambo used the Women in STEM event as a way to build connections and network, she wants to learn from and link with women in the UAE and benefit from their skills and expertise, she also plans to have virtual mentors for the girls in Africa to show them the possibilities.

Mlambo identified the link between technology and social issues at a very early age: "For me it was all about trying to solve problems that I was facing, the medical field and helping people led me to the technology. I love technology and I love the potential it has to transform lives."

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