I started life in IT as a technical support assistant about eight years ago and I have worked in a number of different organizations. In that time, I’ve often been the only woman in the IT department.
There are few IT women in Kenya due to a mix of cultural and practical reasons. For many years, women and young girls have been told (and some are still told) “you can’t do that. It is too masculine”. Because of this, they grow up having an internal career compass that is set towards softer subjects like social sciences and the arts.
The higher education system in Kenya is also different from other countries. At many public universities, you’re placed onto a course according to your grades. For example, if you have higher marks you can access more technical courses like maths and science, but lower grade students can only read certain subjects – which is often not based on the passion or interest they have for a subject.
Many requirements for entry level IT roles makes IT an unfavourable career choice for most women especially with young children. For example, if you work on a Service Desk you might need to be contacted 24/7 or need to do weekend work.
A further challenge is the shortage of female mentors in IT. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are regularly talked about and idolized, but there are fewer women in the spotlight. This is changing but I think as an industry we need to celebrate women to inspire young girls into the profession.
Why IT is a great career choice
Despite the above, IT is an exciting and quickly evolving sector, and presents an ideal industry in which to start your career. In recent years, we’ve seen more young people realize the huge opportunities the sector offers and I’d like to see that develop but also attract a greater proportion of girls.
IT is a booming job market. Every company is automating its processes and needs, and therefore requires support roles to oversee the delivery. These support roles are ideal entry level posts for young girls leaving college. They therefore need to recognize IT as the perfect place to pursue their passions, develop specialist skills and be part of a varied, exciting and fast-moving sector.
The role of industry
To make IT an attractive career choice for women, we need to change some of the barriers and perceptions in the sector and the industry has an essential part to play.
Practically speaking, more businesses need to implement policies and procedures that allow remote working to enable people from different backgrounds to get involved. Flexible working hours will also make it easier for mothers as well as advances in remote working as they will only require an internet connection to do the job. This will open up IT to lots more people beyond urban areas.
The industry has a huge part to play in combatting stereotypes. I recently attended a FinTech conference where the panel was all male and with very few women attending. This is a regular occurrence and so it’s easy to see why people think IT is “men only”. Profiling more positive female role models in the sector will help enormously; there is great work being done to tackle this through mentor matching schemes and specific Women in Tech conferences, but we need more of it.
Getting in and going far
For people considering a career in IT, my advice would be to start with the basics. Wise people learn from other people’s experiences, so read around the subject, learn the terminology and understand why IT matters.
In my view, there’s no right or wrong qualifications to start a career in IT: it’s about passion and with passion you can do great things. Certifications like ITIL®, however, do really help with your progression and I’m a strong believer that you should always keep learning.
It’s important to have confidence and not to be afraid. I believe any young girl can go far in IT and truly make her mark.
Gladys Maina is an IT professional based in Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Management of Information Systems and certifications in ITIL, PRINCE2, PMD Pro, CCNA and A+. She is a registered member of Women in Tech Africa and Women TechMakers. Her passion is in seeing more women breaking barriers in the IT industry.