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We recently published ‘27 women founder-CEOs that have raised over $3 million in Africa’ which drew attention to a group of women leaders at the helm of innovative venture-backed companies across Africa.
In this edition of the Afridigest Thought Circle, we hear directly from five of those CEOs about some of the challenges they face.
THOUGHT CIRCLE QUESTION
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman CEO & Founder in Africa’s tech ecosystem? And what are some advantages/opportunities that may be overlooked?
CEO & Founder, alsoug
The biggest challenge is the daily battle of having to secure equal status in the eyes of men before you can even begin to gain their respect.
As I said in a previous media interview, there are places I can’t go to in Sudan and instead have to rely on male employees to go there. For example, I can’t go to the car market because it’s a male-dominated market and women aren’t taken seriously there.
And for the second half of the question, I think if we remember that women — who are underserved and underinvested — make up half of Africa’s population, it’s easy to see the opportunities.
CEO & Co-Founder, Ejara
What are some of the challenges women face?
- Lack of representation: There’s a significant lack of representation of women in leadership positions across Africa’s tech ecosystem. This has made it difficult for me to find role models, mentors, and networks to support my growth. We still have a bro club/bro culture in many of our local tech ecosystems.
- Cultural barriers: There are also issues of societal norms around gender roles. You can attend a business meeting with your male employee and some potential customers/suppliers won’t even acknowledge your presence.
- Limited access to funding: Although I have been successful so far at fundraising, the data is crystal clear! It takes women ten times the effort to even dream of matching what men can tap into.
And what are some advantages/opportunities that may be overlooked?
- Access to untapped talent: Women entrepreneurs in Africa have access to a large pool of talented women who may be overlooked by other employers. This can provide a significant advantage when it comes to building a diverse and talented team. Our tech team in Ejara is co-led by the smartest female engineer I’ve had the privilege of working with and it’s 60% female.
- NGO support: Many NGOs and some large companies are recognizing the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs in the tech ecosystem. This can include funding, mentorship, and other support services.
- Social impact: Women entrepreneurs in Africa often keep social impact and addressing societal challenges top of mind. This can be a significant advantage when it comes to building a mission-driven business that resonates with customers and investors alike.
CEO & Co-Founder, mTek
Being a woman in African fintech is truly not for the faint-hearted.
You’re too loud for some and too quiet for others. Are you wearing too much lipstick or are you looking too masculine? Some find you too opinionated and others think that you’re not being pushy enough.
Women are confronted with many more and different evaluation criteria than men, and that can be discouraging and unsettling!
A change in mindset that was liberating for me was when I not only decided to just ‘do me’ and be my authentic self, but truly internalized it.
Ultimately, I support making business decisions on the basis of data, merit, and performance. However, this is currently not what’s happening — existing data shows that female founders create more value per dollar invested and there are many lucrative investment opportunities driven by female founders that are underfinanced.
I think we need to create more awareness and encourage open dialogue about the mismatch of funding allocations in order to create an environment of equal opportunities.
MD & Co-Founder, Indicina
Relative to challenges, female founders are less likely to overlap with existing investor networks, which often don’t share their worldview.
I have benefitted from male founder friends doing warm investor intros. However, this isn’t the norm. Investor networks need to be more open and diverse.
And relative to opportunities, the reality is that African female founders are building important tech companies. In addition, they have deep domain knowledge which is an important lever for success in our markets. The startups they’re working on present huge investment opportunities.
CEO & Founder, Pezesha
In terms of challenges, fundraising at the right valuation during the early stages was tough. Even as a 2nd-time founder with an exit, it was still an uphill task. But now that we’ve built a strong foundation and traction, expedited by a strong team and support system, it’s become easier and we know how to go about it.
Aside from that, attracting the right people is always tough as the company continues to grow and scale. The question that’s always lingering in my head is: “How do I create a culture that connects our talent with the company’s purpose, and aligns everyone behind our cause?” It’s a never-ending process.
Finally, in terms of opportunities, as we celebrate International Women’s Day this month, there is more of a need to accelerate support to women entrepreneurs in Africa than ever before.
More investment going to women-led businesses across the continent will result not only in more diversity but increased returns on investment and improved economies. This is the only way to drive long-term prosperity for Africa.
Special thanks to Bente, Hilda, Nelly, Tarneem, and Yvonne for sharing their perspectives!