When talking about a city that is breaking gender stereotypes in the tech world, Lagos, Nigeria may not be the first place that comes to mind. But the Nigeria-based, rapidly growing startup Andela is hoping to change that. Founded in 2014, Andela is building a network of tech entrepreneurs across Africa by providing resources and training. But what really sets Andela apart is its unbending commitment to backing women in tech, and it is encouraging other start-ups to follow in its path.
Andela’s mission to improve gender equality in the field has driven the company’s national and international expansion. “It has been a personal and a company-wide priority to recruit and retain top female talent since we began. We’ve conducted all-female recruitment cycles and classes in Lagos, Nigeria and are now starting a similar initiative in Kenya,” says Andela co-founder Christina Sass.
As of this year, only 18% of Andela’s developers are female, primarily due to the lack of women applicants. But with the company’s focus on backing female entrepreneurs, this number is likely to climb steadily in the coming years. Already, the newest class of developers is up to 25% female. “We are improving,” says Sass, “but still can do better—and we will. Bringing women into career paths is a passion of mine and a priority supported throughout Andela.”
When it comes to giving women equal opportunities, the global tech community has consistently received negative press. In fact, in the US, the percentage of women working in mathematical and computing fields has actually fallen in the past 15 years. Women also tend to retire from the tech world early and at much faster rates than men. The Center for Talent Innovation released a report which pointed to “workplace conditions, a lack of access to key creative roles, and a sense of feeling stalled in one’s career” as the main reasons women leave. Also, “Undermining behavior from managers” played a role.
But, by the looks of it, Nigeria will not be following in the pre established tech world’s footsteps. Part of this is due to necessity. With the start-up boom in Lagos, the country needs women to be able to keep up with demand. Three of Africa’s most successful startups, Jumia, Konga, and Wakanaow, are all Nigeria based. The major start up competition, Seedstars World, has made Lagos it’s home base. Paired with these developments are numerous programs that have sprung up to focus solely on women in tech, both in Nigeria and across the continent. “Removing the stigma and assumption that tech is only supposed to be for men is necessary,” says Ire Aderinokun, Nigeria’s first female Google Developer Expert. “We should work towards eliminating negative statements and mindsets that perpetuate the myth that women can’t be involved.”
For example, the WAAW program (Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women), headquartered in Lagos, ensures that women have equal access to technology education. The program provides mentoring, sets up tech boot camps, and funds scholarships for young entrepreneurs interested in coding and app development. The organization hopes to increase the number of African women in tech by 10% by 2025.
Meanwhile, Intel’s program, She Will Connect, is bringing internet access to more African women. The program trains women in digital literacy to help them keep up with their male counterparts in the field. So far, the program has trained 150,000 women in Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya.
Other organizations focus on educating a younger demographic. For example, GirlHype, which helps girls from middle school to college age master software development and coding. “We really believe that if we target and influence girls’ subject and career choices before they become women with lots of societal influences and self-doubt, the educational empowerment we offer them cannot be taken away… It’s enough to impact the next generation of women in Stem,” says GirlHype founder Baratang Miya. To date, GirlHype has trained over 10,000 girls throughout it’s numerous programs.
Despite the work of these start-ups, women in Nigeria continue to face obstacles when integrating into the tech world. The industry is still dominated by men, and it will likely take years of perseverance to change that. However, the country has made huge strides forward, especially given where women stood less than a decade ago. Companies like Andela, and programs like WAAW, She Will Connect and GirlHype are teaching girls that tech can be a woman’s world too.