Posted by Editorial Team
In celebration of International Women’s Day, which took place on 8 March, we wanted to profile one of Microsoft’s leading ladies – Tonia Kariuki, the Marketing Director for our 4Afrika Initiative. Tonia loves being a woman in the ICT industry because of its energy and innovative nature. She is a strong advocate for encouraging more women to pursue STEM subjects because of their increasing presence in the digital marketplace and the rich contribution she believes they can make to the industry.
What attracted you to the ICT industry?
Actually, I landed in the IT industry quite by accident. I am a lawyer by training and after my graduation, I served my pupillage at one of the leading law firms in Nairobi, Kenya. One weekend in November 1996, an old friend called me to inform me that he had been posted to Nairobi to start up a regional office for East Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands for Microsoft Corporation. We agreed to meet for a drink a day later, he offered me a job, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What do you love most about being a woman in the ICT industry?
For a long time, the sciences were the purview of men. Women were resigned to the more “creative” career choices. However, having been in the industry for the past 18 years, I’ve found that IT is the perfect balance between art, innovation, creativity and science. I love the energy, the fact that the only constant is change and because by nature the industry is innovative, you always know that the best is yet to come – it sounds a lot like fashion, right? That’s why this is an industry that was made for women – it speaks to our ability to adapt to change. I also know that this is not the same in every industry so I’m grateful every day that my choices led me to tech.
What challenges have you experienced as a woman in the ICT industry?
To be honest, no challenges that I would say are unique to the tech sector. Very early into his appointment, our CEO, Satya Nadella said, “Our industry does not respect history, it only respects innovation.” In this context, the traditional challenges women face are less obvious, innovation is what counts. There are a lot of amazing women setting trends in technology across the world from Sheryl Sandberg to our very own Juliana Rotich here in Kenya.
Why is it important to encourage more women to pursue STEM subjects?
Simple – inclusion. In tech, we struggle with the stereotype of a male computer scientist, we don’t see the equivalent of a female Bill Gates or a female Steve Jobs. While women are making huge strides in other disciplines like medicine and law, we continue to lag behind in tech. Inclusion allows organisations to draw from the best talent regardless of personal demographics, which in turn leads to a richer contribution to the industry. This balance can only be achieved if more women take up STEM careers. Women have surpassed men in internet usage, they account for close to 60% of online spending and they use their mobiles twice as frequently as men do. This demonstrates the increasing influence women are playing in the marketplace today. Any tech company that wants to be successful will look at these statistics and know that increased gender inclusion in the workplace is not an option anymore, it’s a necessity.
How can a woman achieve a good work/life balance?
I believe that the primary lever to achieving a healthy work/life balance is personal choice. There is no set formula. YOU have got to find YOUR right balance that allows YOU to prioritise that which makes YOU happy.
What advice do you have for women looking for a career in ICT?
Go for it. Start small and build your career. If you have a great idea that doesn’t sound tech-related, think of how technology can enhance it by making it better, faster or more efficient. I don’t know if there’s any other industry that’s as committed to making other industries better than technology. There’s something for everyone.