Women in tech: Meet Afri Ride COO Mireille Umuhoza
Women hold less than a quarter of South Africa's tech industry jobs, according to Women in Tech ZA, and even less hold senior positions.
Mireille Umuhoza is part of that minority - she is the chief operations officer at Afri Ride, a ride-sharing app.
When Umuhoza, who is 23, joined the team at Afri Ride last year, she'd recently completed her BCom degree from the University of Pretoria and had already started her own second-hand store for university and college textbooks, The Book Market. She says the downtime between the start of each semester (when textbook sales are highest) gives her the time to balance both responsibilities.
The app has a number of offerings for the commuters and car owners: Find A Seat, or Find A Car and Offer a Seat or Offer A Car. Users negotiate their own prices and payments are made into the integrated Afri Wallet. There's also Mbira Chat, the app's chat service, allowing users to finalise trip logistics. There’s also a video call option as a means of vetting fellow users. Mbira Chat can also send a user's live location to friends and family.
Most of the company's 13 staff members are female. Umuhoza says, "We don't actively go out of our way to find women to hire, we just don't withhold roles from a specific demographic. Because of that, we've created a very competent workforce that happens to be made up of women”.
The app also has a 'women only' option for riders’ and drivers’ peace of mind.
"It’s one thing to decide to incorporate women-friendly features into an app but it’s another to have women – who have the same lived experience – as part of the decision-making body."
Taking up space
When Umuhoza met Afri Ride's founder Joe Moyo, he still worked as a real estate agent and she'd helped him with his marketing and PR. When Moyo founded the start-up, he hired her to handle communications.
She explains how she ended up as COO: "The organisational structure of start-ups can change rapidly, so over time I took on more responsibilities and proved myself capable of holding the second biggest role in the company.
"There actually wasn’t a COO position when I joined Afri Ride. I just became an all-rounder and took up the new position."
As a young woman in a male-dominated industry, Umuhoza has other young women looking up to her for guidance. She doesn't shy away from the opportunities her private school and university education has afforded her, “because I'm so young and I've had these privileges, I'm less threatened by failure."
Her advice to the up-and-coming women in tech is to 'just do it’.
“Take advantage of opportunities and the privilege you might have. Don't let them go to waste."
On encouraging more girls to pursue tech careers, Umuhoza feels that while there are already many good STEM initiatives working with this goal in mind, the industry needs to move away from trying to appeal to girls through superficial gender stereotypes such as pink lab coats or glittery goggles.