Recently, hundreds of women involved in technology came from all over Africa for the Women in Tech Africa Summit.
Attendees of this unique event immersed themselves in specialist lead talks, paneled discussions, and action-oriented workshops, all centered around female empowerment and technological innovation.
Setting the stage was Haidi Nossair, Marketing director at Dell Technologies for Middle East, Turkey and Africa.
Haidi Nossair did not study technology – she graduated in languages and fell into the tech world by chance. She spoke about her journey as a woman rising to the top echelons at Dell Technologies saying:
“You really have two options in life. You choose where you are going or, if you land somewhere, you choose what will happen”.
Haidi Nossair discussed ways to develop your talent, build a network, let others know what you want and the importance of being a role model even when you think no one is looking.
“Speak about what you’re good at. Promote your talents and your brand. Hard work isn’t always appreciated – perception counts as well.”
Nossair also touched on the economic imperative to bring women into higher paid roles across industry stating: “Diversity is not nice to have. It’s a business imperative,” adding that if by 2030 women had equal levels of employment as those of men, the global economy could gain $5.3 trillion.
Mavis Ampah, CEO of Stinsad Consult and previously Lead ICT Policy Specialist for The World Bank shared an astonishingly good talk titled:
‘Upskilling fast to identify your path to seniority – 5 career lessons from a badass’.
She introduced herself and laughed on stage while she said that someone else had titled her talk and now she had to talk about being a “badass” to which she quipped nonchalantly “whatever that means”.
Mavis Ampah is so impressive whilst being so casual and down to earth that I was immediately awestruck.
Mavis Ampah has worked for The World Bank, transformed the telecommunications industry in Ghana and even had a hand in the project for laying the undersea cables that carry the internet.
Imparted wisdom included advising the audience to work on small projects with quick turnaround times stating that “the right visibility can be critical to getting a promotion”.
Other lessons included finding projects that expose you to the boss, the importance of learning to prepare great presentations and to state your issues confidently.
She encouraged attendees by saying:
“Say no with justification – you’ll gain respect. Ask for help with justification – you’ll be appreciated.”
Another valuable topic Ampah touched on is to claim and document your success, she then went on to discuss the value of having a mentor for motivation, training and guidance.
Mavis Ampah reminded us to embrace failure with dignity, explaining that failure should be seen as a path to gain resilience and that we need to adapt, learn and draw lessons from our experiences.
Her closing note was to be brave, telling the audience that “the best opportunities come when you demonstrate courage”.
The event was hosted at the Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town, South Africa on the 18th and 19th of March 2019.
By far the most impressive aspect of the Women in Tech Africa summit was the exhaustive list of exceptional female leaders from all over Africa who spoke.
The panels and speakers included a range of executives with roles such as VP of engineering, CTO, CEO, Strategic Growth Director, Chief information officer, Head of Global Business Services and more.
Topics ranged from cloud optimisation and getting into data science to practical advice such as how to present technology principles to a non-technical audience.
Getting exposure to tech giants
There were two tracks within the conference: one track of workshops and a ’speakers corner’ venue to meet the speakers, integrating attendees, speakers and sponsors to discuss career opportunities and field questions.
The major themes of the event were around diversity and inclusion, addressing the digital divide, skills development and using tech to drive economic development.
We know that addressing gender inequality is crucial and must not stop. Women are increasingly a bigger part of the workforce, but there are still barriers preventing them from assuming higher management roles.
The Women in Tech Africa summit was an opportunity to hear how tech companies engage in social upliftment and addressing these concerns.
Through Tricia Smyth, EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Dell and Vice President of Client Solutions David Brooke’s workshop on diversity – I learned of several strategies employed by Dell.
One such program was called Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) which helps men understand unconscious bias, insider/outsider dynamics and gender role conditioning.
Their focus includes flexible hours, education, mentorship and a promotion pipeline that puts women forward. They hold management accountable, saying that this action must start with a definite stance and plan from management. Dell also has a ‘Re-entry’ program which brings women back into the workforce after a career break.
When given an opportunity to interview Haidi Nossair for this article, we spoke about the challenges of diversity in tech and she stated that
“The key challenge is unconscious bias.”
Nossair explained further saying “there is a common perception that certain technology jobs are too difficult for women or because those women look after families that they will not have the time or commitment to cover certain technology roles.”
Going on to detail how bias extends into hiring practices she said “The technology industry is historically led by men, the number of men in the workforce are quite a bit higher than the women in the workforce and then when people are hiring they people nominate and recommend people they know – but they don’t know women.”
Nossair stated “Men need to have more visibility of women in the industry” and stressed that both sides need to engage adding that “Women need to make themselves more visible and to promote their work and their skill set.”
Speculating about causes of women holding themselves back she mentioned: “Either we are not making ourselves visible or we are not promoting the great work we are doing or we are not raising our hands to go after the jobs we want because we don’t feel ready.”
When aiming to satisfy the need for technical skills in the industry Nossair said “I hear a lot that we don’t find the skill sets in the market but that’s the pressure that is placed on the talent acquisition, to actually go out and find those skills to help the organisation and hiring managers make the decisions and not use that as an excuse.”
Her closing remarks were related to her enthusiasm for an IoT agriculture venture and the impact of technology on business use cases saying
“The potential is immense, I am more excited about technology than ever before”.
The first day of the event closed with an opportunity to network and share a drink with new friends and other attendees.
The second day closed with a heartfelt keynote from Asha Patel, Head of Marketing at Google South Africa.
Patel tied in many relevant themes and shared her perspective on the challenges of growing up as a woman of colour in South Africa and being a mother whilst being career driven.
Hearing stories like hers is transformational for the Women in Tech community throughout Africa. Inspiration and role models are needed by all of us to have a greater vision for our future.
A huge thank you to the organisers – Maddox Events – and to all the attendees and speakers who made it so wonderful. Thanks to Haidi Nossair who kindly gave her time to be interviewed for this Women in Tech ZA article.
Written by Whitney Tennant, 8th April 2019
Whitney Tennant is Engineering Manager at VIPERdev – a software development startup based in Hamburg, Germany. She works remotely, loves tech, art, raspberries and playing soccer. You can find her on the internet with the handle @whits_ftw