“So, in my days – many years back – IT was always looked at as a man’s profession. Very few women were in the industry and I think we felt intimidated by the profession. In my graduating year there were about only 5 out of 50 students who were women” For many women, taking up a career in technology can be a challenge in itself. Laura Chite, Marketing and Communications Lead for Kenya at Microsoft shares her experience of being a woman in ICT, and why it’s a path young girls should consider.
What attracted you to the ICT industry?
The excitement of doing something different every day. Surprisingly, when I was a student in University I had no major interest in technology. However upon my graduation, I got a job with an agency that was managing marketing for Microsoft East Africa. So, I was thrown into this deep end situation where I had to work with an IT company. After a 3 month stint, Microsoft offered me the opportunity to work with them as a sales person initially and then marketing thereafter. I hardly knew anything about technology and would constantly harass the technical guys about my PC. Eventually, I realised if I don’t learn how to navigate my way around and troubleshoot my own issues, I will never perform at my job. Luckily, I was in this organisation that had an endless pool of learning resources, even for beginners like me. The journey became very exciting and I would schedule training for myself once a week. That is when I realised, technology is very exciting and dynamic. There was always something new to learn and the more I learnt the more exciting it got….then I became insatiable and here I am today!!!
2. What do you love most about being a woman in the ICT industry?
So, in my days – many years back – IT was always looked at as a man’s profession. Very few women were in the industry and I think we felt intimidated by the profession. In my graduating year there were about only 5 out of 50 students who were women. What we didn’t realise at that point, is that there’s all sorts of careers within the IT industry and one doesn’t necessarily have to be a technical expert. The most exciting thing about this profession is that, when people realise you are in the IT industry as a woman, they are very ready to challenge you, which I love very much. It gives me the opportunity to “spew” all my technical jargon and look like a genius – just kidding. Seriously though, being a woman in the IT industry – gives me the opportunity to express technology as I understand it and make it work for me. It is a challenging job every day and no two days are the same. I put myself in the shoes of a consumer and try to understand their needs and most importantly make them understand that without IT, you have no future. One other thing that I love about IT, is the fact that so many girls out there who are thinking of their future career can look up to me and be like – mmmh, that is an option for me – if she can do it, then I can…
3. What challenges have you experienced as a woman in the ICT industry?
So, there’s this whole jargon around IT – OS, WS, O365 etc- these are not regular English words. Acronyms and more acronyms – I wish someone would put together a “dummy’s guide to ICT language” J.
4. Why is it important to encourage more women to pursue STEM subjects
All sorts of opportunities that can be handled by women are opened up when women pursue STEM subjects. We always shy away from these because we don’t think we are good enough. We must learn to break the seal and operate out of our comfort zones. If a woman has interest in technology, engineering or numbers – then those of us in these industries must learn to mentor and encourage them and show them the possibilities that exist out there. There’s a lot of focus and investment in the “Girl Child” they should take advantage of this and make sure they make the investment worthwhile. There’s a saying that goes “ Educating a woman, is educating a village”. So, women must learn to take the bull by the horns and make their dreams come true and drop the traditional belief that we are homemakers and only good enough for the ARTS.
5. How can a woman achieve a good work / life balance? (Having time for your work and your hobbies)
Women by nature are very good at multitasking. We must continue to practice this even when we get into the cycle of work. We must make sure that we create time for ourselves and take advantage of flexi working schedules. We must learn how to do less to achieve more. You are the one who plans your schedule, have you thought about your “me” time? We must learn to push back in the corporate world – we find it hard to say NO! We are always swamped with work and can never say my plate is full!! If you are not passionate about what you do, you will find yourself putting in more time than you need to just to get things done – always follow your passion and learn how to incorporate your hobbies in your work schedule.
6. What advice do you have for women looking for a career in ICT?
There are so many career opportunities in the IT industry i.e. HR, Finance, Marketing, Technical, Sales etc. IT is not rocket science and has very many disciplines in it. Do your research, seek a mentor, try an internship during your holidays, subscribe to publications. Don’t feel like your hands are tied, be aggressive and go out there and make it happen for yourself. Just the way there are endless opportunities in other professions – IT is the new “Orange is the new Black” – you can do anything within this scope. Be creative and think out of the box and make IT work for you!