Women in tech are game-changers

Read time 5min 10sec
Lorraine Steyn, founder and CEO of KRS.
Lorraine Steyn, founder and CEO of KRS.

The all-female line-up at the first Moving to Mastery Women in Tech and Digital Conference packed a powerful punch.

A group of women – the majority of whom had the word “founder” somewhere in their titles – shared their insights and gave advice based on lengthy careers in the start-up and tech space.

When having conversations about “women in tech”, one can easily moan about what is lacking, but Anna Collard, founder and MD of KnowBe4 Company, Popcorn Training, explained that this can actually undermine the many amazing women already working in digital and tech.

Rather than focusing on what is not there, she suggested the women in the industry should be coming up with strategies to encourage and inspire young girls to join this space too. “Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you might be the only woman in a room. Own it.

“If you can be taught how to do a smoky eye by watching a YouTube video, you really can learn how to do anything,” she joked.

“Obviously, I’ve come across sexism during my 20-year career but in general I think that if you focus your lens on the negative, you’ll always find it. Rather focus on the positive and only let the negative in when it really becomes a problem.”

All of the founders agreed that finding success is not without its ups and downs and requires a great deal of dedication and hard work.

When Aisha Pandor, co-founder and CEO of SweepSouth, and her husband created their business, it was the first home services platform on the African continent. Because of the novelty of the platform, funders were cautious to invest.

This meant they had to fund everything themselves and make some pretty big financial and personal sacrifices in the process. It wasn’t easy, she confessed. It was only after she appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine that she could go to her family with “proof” that her cleaning business was a success.

Having passion for what you’re working on and for the problems you’re solving is so important, she noted. “If we, as women, aren’t part of building this new, digital world we are going to find ourselves living in a world that doesn’t resonate with us. The only way we can be a part of this world is to understand tech and to take part in future that we’re all going to have to live in.”

Discussing her experiences over the course of her 30 years running KRS, Lorraine Steyn, founder and CEO of the local software development company, explained that when she started her business there was parity in the tech space. In fact, she cited the invention of the home PC as being somewhat of a catalyst to the decline of women working in science and technology.

When people started buying PCs for their homes, these gadgets were seen as a more masculine tool and were given to sons, not daughters. “By the time these children headed to college, boys had a huge advantage over girls simply because they’d been more exposed to tech.”

But as more and more women enter the industry, Bongekile Mabaso, co-founder of Uplift Youth in Africa, believes that workplaces must adapt. Mothers need to be given the support they need to be both a businesswoman and a mom, she explained. When our needs as women are supported, we will be happier and more productive and, unfortunately, it’s still up to us, as women, to demand this support, Mabaso noted.

Finding business success

Obami founder and CEO Barbara Mallinson shared the key lessons she has learnt during her 10 years running Obami; from understanding your customer and leveraging the new world of work, to avoiding vanity metrics and being creative.

One of her pearls of wisdom included knowing your narrative, which she explained by sharing a story around how her business found its name.

Obami is a Zulu word, which Mallinson understood to be a derivation of ‘me’ or ‘mine’. But she soon learned it means so much more. While on a flight from London back to SA she sat next to an elderly Zulu gentleman who explained to her that Obami also meant the destiny of humankind. “How fitting. This anecdote has become a part of who we are, of our story and how our business came about.”

When it comes to creating a product, people often focus far too much attention on delivery and the final outcome. So much so that they forget to develop a solid product strategy and understand the problem they’re trying to solve, explained Lynette Hundermark, co-founder and CPO of Useful & Beautiful.

It’s a bit like building a house and only once the four walls are up and the roof is on do you start realising you would like to make some changes to the design.

Today, perhaps more so than ever, it’s critical to have our say and to not let the male voices dominate others, she noted. Everyone in your teams should feel comfortable to, and be given the chance to, share their ideas, said Steyn. “When I was younger, I played the male game. I was one of the boys: I drank with the boys, I went out with the boys, I wore the shoulder pads. But I’ve really turned against that. I think there is so much power in women being women, standing together and working together.

“Women are really good at tech and development and we shouldn’t let anyone tell us anything else. Done.”

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