"In Tanzania the gender gap in STEM subjects is still very wide with females lagging far behind males." SHE Codes for Change, a Tanzanian tech mentorship project aims to close the gender gap in the technology sector by educating, inspiring and equipping high school and university young women with the skills and tools for innovation and social change. Abella Bateyunga, founder of SHE Codes for Change, shares more on her contribution to enhancing opportunities for women in ICT in Tanzania.
What attracted you to the ICT industry?
Coming from a legal background, and then specializing in governance, community development, media and arts, one will wonder what business do I have to be called ‘a woman in ICT’?Years ago I would have thought the same too, until I was exposed to the tech world and limitless opportunities it presents. I said to myself in order to be relevant, having access to applications and services that will make my career easier, my platform not only wider and accessible but also relevant to this global virtual community – ICT is unavoidable, not only to me but to whoever is serious with development from the grassroots to the top society leadership. I am realizing with technology revolutionizing our current society, especially the youth, I can’t afford to remain rigid to the industry, but rather join and shed light to many more so that together we cause even major positive societal impact, from local to global.
What do you love most about being a woman in the ICT industry?
Imagine getting an opportunity to run a Tanzanian tech mentorship project that aims to close the gender gap in the technology sector by educating, inspiring and equipping high school and university young women with the skills and tools for innovation and social change, also providing resources for them to pursue opportunities in science – especially computing fields. This is what my team and I, fellows from the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, are set to do through our project ‘ SHE Codes for Change’. We aim to create an amazing learning experience for girls through tech skills learning, pairing them with ICT mentors and role models, showing them examples of what it means to work in tech world, this is regardless of where they will end up in their future careers.
What challenges have you experienced as a woman in the ICT industry?
Well, coming from the non tech background, or even from my fellow team mates who posses few years of experience in the industry at times delays potential partners and important stakeholders’ buy in, partners who could assist our efforts given their long experience and skills depth in the field. But this neither makes me nor my team lose hope, we understand that trailblazers and trendsetters everywhere don’t have it the easier but the results are always worthy and so we keep pushing forward, for we have seen it working in other countries and we have hope for our girls too.
Why is it important to encourage more women to pursue STEM subjects?
In Tanzania the gender gap in STEM subjects is still very wide with females lagging far behind males. This is due to the fact that there was a huge push for men to get into science and technology than women. There are also not a lot of role models for women to look up to, and so girls are not as encouraged to get into the industry. Through our program we aim to begin as early as secondary schools when girls begin to define their career journey to university level, sparking their interest in science and tech industry. What better way to spark a desire for pursuing STEM subjects than through using the technology itself? Though encouraging student’s own tech projects, science fairs, mentoring opportunities, guest speakers from the tech world, student clubs and field trips, We believe our project will encourage Tanzanian girls/women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
How can a woman achieve a good work / life balance? (Having time for your work and your hobbies)
Being involved with quite a lot given my passion to bring about positive change in my society, most time I am excited, passionate, energetic and motivated to do what I do, but there are time I am found out of energy, or even burnt out. I believe the balance is found in taking care of our spirit, body and soul (mind, emotion and will) equally, we need to find a balance for our both inner and outer person; otherwise we will not go so far or achieve so much. Learning should never stop, eating healthy and exercising should be part of our daily lives.We should aim to work smarter and have fun during and after work doing what we love.
What advice do you have for women looking for a career in ICT?
ICT is fun! It continues to revolutionize and simplify our way of living. One should think of it as less coding and more of changing the world while aiming to inspire, encourage and motivate society around you to leverage technology as a necessarily outlet for development. We should think of computers and all tech media related tools as platform to providing solutions to our surrounding communities, now who wouldn’t want to be part of solution bringers and change makers? Of course we all are, more so I believe women should even be found at the front line of such major agent of change.