- In Africa, a gender gap exists in tech entrepreneurship that needs to be bridged, for the development of more inclusive and sustainable societies and economies
- There are very few women tech founders and executives in sub-Saharan Africa.
- The gender gap in tech entrepreneurship is gaining more attention due to its impact on personal wealth development and societal growth.
- African governments need to put in place policies and initiatives to promote female tech entrepreneurship
- Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and Rwanda are some of the African countries that have policies and regulations that promote gender parity in tech entrepreneurship.
- A more comprehensive approach is needed, including enhancing access to finance, entrepreneurship education, awareness, networking, and digital literacy training.
Gender equality is both an economic and moral imperative (OECD, 2020). Reducing gender inequality is critical to the development of more inclusive and sustainable societies and economies (Miric et al., 2022). Unfortunately, gender equality attainment has remained elusive, with a recent report by the World Economic Forum (2022) showing that it may take another century to close the gap. As one of the fastest-growing industries, tech requires more investment and labor supply to thrive (Mare, 2021). In 2023, the UN’s Women’s theme is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” (UNCTAD, 2023). It recognizes the women that are leading in transformative technology and digital education.
Tech entrepreneurship is a possible way of women participating in the digital economy (UNESCO, 2023). In Africa, although many women have gained skills and opportunities, they have not joined the tech industry as expected (Neneh & Welsh, 2022). Currently, women only account for 30% of the tech industry in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This article explores the policies and initiatives African governments have put in place to bridge the gender gap in the tech industry, and to give recommendations to further improve the conditions that promote female tech entrepreneurship.
Female Entrepreneurship in Africa
Africa has a thriving female entrepreneurship culture that is characterized by economic dynamism, creativity, and innovation (Irene, 2019). Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the highest rate of female entrepreneurship globally, with females more likely to be self-employed than males, and 27% of female entrepreneurs in the world are in SSA (McKinsey, 2020; Mastercard, 2022). However, many female-led organizations are small with limited opportunities for growth in several African countries, and disproportionately fewer women work in startups, particularly in the technology sector. Gender inequalities hinder women from scaling businesses, leading to less profitable enterprises compared to those owned by men (Brixiová et al., 2020). To close these gender gaps, individuals, development actors, the private sector, and the government all have roles to play (Irene, 2019).
In SSA, women constitute more than half of the population, but only less than 33% contribute to GDP (McKinsey, 2020). If countries in Africa match gender parity, there will be an additional $ 300 billion added to the GDP. It means that there would be an additional 10% GDP by 2025 if women’s inclusion is considered (Corrêa et al., 2022). Besides, there is a nexus between women inclusion and reduction in poverty. According to research, women invest more than 80% of their income in their families as compared to men’s 35% (Aparicio et al., 2022).
Female tech entrepreneurs in Africa
As noted in the study by McKinsey (2020), SSA has the highest rate of female entrepreneurship globally. Numerous innovative projects are being carried out by women in SSA, and they have the potential to improve communication, household nutrition, agriculture productivity, and livelihoods while also inspiring change (The World Bank, 2020). The tech startup ecosystem in SSA is rapidly growing (Ball, 2017). Across the continent, there are many innovative entrepreneurs that leverage tech to change obstacles into opportunities. Sadly, women are being left out of this equation, as is the case in many startups around the world. Only 9% of the businesses assessed in VC4Africa’s analysis of the African startup ecosystem were headed by women (VC4A, 2019).
Due to a lack of trained workers, the gender gap in tech entrepreneurship is a problem for developing countries in Africa (Hilbert, 2011), which limits their ability to progress (Ball, 2017). Despite their potential to help close the gap, women’s underrepresentation in the sector exacerbates the issue. Closing the gender pay gap has been a priority in developed nations, but developing countries, where there is a growing need for ICT skills, have received less attention (Aparicio et al., 2022). For instance, an analysis done by Partech (2019) shows that Nigeria, with $747 million in capital investment, attracts almost a third of all venture capital tech start-up funding, making it the top destination on the continent. However, only 15% of Nigerian tech start-up co-founders questioned were female, underscoring the need for more gender diversity in the vibrant and fascinating digital economy (Partech, 2019).
African Governments’ policies/initiatives promoting women in tech entrepreneurship.
In recent years, there has been improvement in how African governments address the digital gap. Governments have made commitments to gender equality through the “Protocol to the African Charter on Rights of Women in Africa,” and the “Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa.” Many of these nations have implemented policies aimed at promoting the participation of women in tech entrepreneurship (Corrêa et al., 2022). However, others continue to face challenges in the implementation of the policies. Some examples of successful female tech entrepreneurship policies and initiatives are highlighted below.
The National ICT Master Plan of Kenya, 2013-2017 had provisions for inclusion of marginalized groups and women in the technology sector. Besides, in Kenya, there is a Women Enterprise fund, which gives financial support to enterprises led by women. Kenya’s Women Enterprise Fund has assisted more than 180,000 women-owned enterprises, some of which are in the tech sector (Mulu-Mutuku et al., 2015). Moreover, female entrepreneurs in the ICT sector have seen an increase in business because to Kenya’s 30% rule for women and youth in government procurement, which has helped them win more bids and contracts. Due to the leveling of the playing field and more chances for women-owned firms, the industry has experienced tremendous growth (Lock & Lawton Smith, 2016).
In Nigeria, the National Policy on Science, Technology, and Innovation (2012) has provisions that promote gender equality and the integration of women in the science, technology, and innovation fields. Female participation in STEM is also supported by the establishment of technology innovation centers. Recently, in partnership with the African Development Bank (AfDB), the government has established a fund that supports tech for women and youth to spur growth of innovation (Gilbert, 2023). Besides, there is an Assisted Skills Training and vocational Education Project, also in partnership with the AfDB, which helps to train women in STEM education.
Another example is Ghana, which has launched a number of programs to encourage female entrepreneurship. The Ghanaian government introduced the Presidential Pitch initiative in 2019, which offers cash and mentoring to aspiring business owners. With more than 60% of the 2019 winners being female, the program has had a tremendous impact on female entrepreneurship. The National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan (NEIP), which offers funding, mentoring, and training to young entrepreneurs, was also formed by the government of Ghana.
When it comes to empowering women in technology, Rwanda is one of the top nations in Africa. The Women in ICT (W@ICT) project, which aims to boost the proportion of women working in the ICT sector, was introduced by the government in 2016. The program gives women business owners in the ICT industry access to funding, mentoring, and training. The W@ICT project has led to a 50% rise in the proportion of women employed in Rwanda’s ICT industry. Additionally, more than 1,000 new positions for women in the ICT industry have been made possible by the project (Ijeh, 2022).
Besides, Rwanda’s Girls in ICT initiative offers young women training and mentorship opportunities to entice them to seek jobs in technology. Rwanda has received praise for its effective programs to encourage women’s involvement in technology and entrepreneurship. The “Smart Rwanda” plan, which intends to convert Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy, was introduced by the Rwandan government in 2016 (Corrêa et al., 2022). The government has built innovation hubs like kLab and FabLab as part of this strategy, which offer training and mentorship to entrepreneurs and inventors (Ijeh, 2022). Many of the tech start-ups created as a result of the campaign are headed by women
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Recommendations for empowering female tech entrepreneurs in Africa
In order to empower female tech entrepreneurs in Africa, a multifaceted strategy that fosters an environment that supports their development and success is necessary. A gender inclusive tech industry will need particular regulations that give more women the opportunity to pursue jobs in computing from the time they are young girls to the time they are professionals, given present trends (Irene, 2019). To guarantee that women in Africa are given the same opportunities as men to pursue jobs in technology, all stakeholders have a critical role to play. Collaboration amongst stakeholders is essential for addressing resource and policy gaps. In order to build a gender-inclusive tech industry, the following policy ideas stress the roles of African development organizations and governments, private sector actors, and community people. There is a significant possibility for quicker economic growth and social advancement if these steps are implemented and more women are able to participate in tech as creators and consumers.
1. Fostering an atmosphere that allows female tech entrepreneurs to succeed
Existing regulations make it difficult for women to own property or register their businesses. Governments can address this by enacting policies that protect women’s property rights, simplify business registration processes, and incentivize private sector organizations to support women-led businesses. Governments must foster an environment that allows female tech entrepreneurs to succeed. This entails setting helpful legislation and regulations, granting access to affordable and dependable internet connectivity, and encouraging a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Female entrepreneurs will be inspired to launch and expand their firms in a supportive business environment (World Bank Group, 2019).
Governments can create gender-inclusive procurement quotas, whereby they promise to buy a specific proportion of goods and services from female-owned tech enterprises, such as 30%, in order to support female entrepreneurs (Mulu-Mutuku et al., 2015). In Kenya, this rule has already been put into effect, helping female company owners and encouraging economic expansion (World Bank Group, 2019). To ensure their inclusion, these quotas can also take into account the requirements of other excluded groups, such as those with regional or religious distinctions.Moreover, the problem of lack of access to markets can be addressed by governments creating platforms that connect women entrepreneurs with buyers, suppliers, and distributors, such as the SheTrades initiative in Nigeria and the AFAWA program by the African Development Bank (Ukwueze, 2022).
Legal impediments in the tech sector that disproportionately disadvantage female entrepreneurs must be removed. Women frequently have to abide by stifling rules that make it difficult for them to open and use bank accounts, register businesses, and move about freely. These rules can be repealed or changed to level the playing field for women in the industry and provide them more freedom to launch and expand their firms. This may result in a more inclusive and diversified tech sector where everyone has an equal chance of success (Irene, 2019).
2. Addressing the gender digital divide
For the development and success of female tech entrepreneurs, addressing the gender digital divide is essential. This can be done by giving women and girls, especially those in underprivileged and rural areas, training in digital literacy and skills. Initiatives that improve women’s access to digital tools and resources should be given top priority by governments and private sector stakeholders. Increased female entrepreneurship can be achieved by incorporating entrepreneurship instruction at all educational levels with a focus on exposing female students to female role models (Lyons & Zhang, 2017). A success case in this regard IS the Coding for Employment initiative by the AfDB, which was implemented in 2018 in five countries, Rwanda, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Nigeria.
More women can be drawn to entrepreneurship by providing non-competitive programs and participating in contests with mixed-gender teams. Women’s interest in entrepreneurship can be further stimulated by obtaining the necessary education for high-growth entrepreneurship and by creating a wider array of entrepreneurial programs, particularly those with socially conscious objectives (Berger & Kuckertz, 2016). When women head tech organizations, they frequently have a favorable influence on corporate operations, including hiring and promotion practices. Companies are more likely to hire women at all levels when there is a greater representation of women in senior positions, building a pipeline of female talent for the sector and increasing the number of gender-diverse teams.
3. Promoting mentorship/networking opportunities
Female tech entrepreneurs can benefit greatly from mentorship and networking opportunities. Mentors can offer advice, assistance, and connections that can help female business owners overcome obstacles and accomplish their objectives (OECD, 2017). Governments and private sector partners should develop networking opportunities and mentorship programs that are expressly geared toward women in IT and business. Being exposed to female entrepreneurs can help to lessen stereotyped self-image and simplify the entrepreneurial process, as evidenced in several research (Eble & Hu, 2019; Kofoed & McGovney, 2019). A typical strategy to accomplish this is to aggressively push tech organizations to include female entrepreneurial role models in training programs while showcasing successful female entrepreneurs on specialized web platforms (Skonieczna & Castellano, 2020). According to Rocha and Van Praag’s (2020) research, pairing female trainees with active female entrepreneurs in fields with a male predominance can be a successful strategy for boosting the number of female entrepreneurs.
4. Providing access to resources and money
Lack of funds is a critical gap because women have limited collateral and financial literacy, and there is often a lending bias against women-led enterprisers (Ramers, 2020). It is, therefore, expected that African governments should step in and give support to women through targeted programs, such as the Women Enterprise fund in Kenya. According to Guzman and Kacperczyk (2019), female entrepreneurs experience difficulties in collecting funding since male investors favor businesspeople with comparable traits and view them as inefficient leaders with little room for advancement.
The growth and success of female IT entrepreneurs depend on their ability to obtain resources and funding. Governments and businesses should start initiatives and programs to provide money, resources, and training to female IT entrepreneurs. Priority should be given to women in underprivileged and rural areas in these programs, which should also provide assistance throughout the whole business cycle (World Bank Group, 2019). The financing gender gap can be closed by creating funds for women and securing funding. Women’s financial access can be significantly increased by working to strengthen the enablers that can do so, such as raising the identification of women, enhancing the digital infrastructure, and lowering the prerequisites to get loans (Irene, 2019).Top of Form
In developed countries, governmental policy is changing to give female entrepreneurs with growth-oriented firms additional financial support, including venture capital investment (OECD, 2017). In the pursuit of significant returns, specialized companies construct portfolios of high-risk investments known as venture capital. There aren’t many women-led venture firms in Africa, and women entrepreneurs rarely receive venture capital funding. Options for gender rebalancing venture capital investing include increasing the number of female investors and advisors and creating funds particularly designed to invest in businesses run by women.
Besides, African governments can encourage angel investment through measures to boost the expansion of women-owned businesses. This less formal kind of investment, which is frequently made by wealthy people, is thought to be worth USD 25 billion in the US (OECD, 2017). However, compared to men, women have a substantially lower likelihood of receiving angel funding. Governments should assist the inclusion of female investors and advisors in angel networks in order to rectify this imbalance. They can also educate women entrepreneurs on financial matters to help them make better loan applications and financial pitches. To lessen gender bias, training for male investors can also be offered.
5. Increase Women’s Political Representation
In order to promote entrepreneurship and solidify women’s achievements in the private sector through representation in the public sector, governments must improve the representation of women and their influence in policymaking. The best method to accomplish this is through quota rules. Women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurial outcomes are better when there are more women in the legislature. In Rwanda, a statute granting women access to land increased financial inclusion from 36% to 63% over the course of four years (World Bank Group, 2019). Girls and young women can benefit much from seeing women in leadership jobs since it helps to rethink gender roles and social expectations of what women are capable of.
In conclusion, achieving gender inclusivity in Africa’s tech sector is vital to unleash its innovation and leadership potential. Eliminating gender discrimination and increasing access to capital for women entrepreneurs can make markets more dynamic and competitive. Women’s full participation in the tech economy can result in diverse product creation, higher financial returns, and access to new markets. Women-led tech start-ups can also help reach the underserved women and girls in digital markets, which is crucial for African business given women’s increasing spending and consumer power. Public policies aimed at encouraging and supporting women’s entrepreneurship typically focus on improving the resources available to them, such as their networks, skills, and financial support. Providing entrepreneurship coaching, mentoring, and training, assisting in the creation of entrepreneurial networks, and facilitating access to capital are examples of common tactics. Moreover, policymakers should look at the greater institutional framework that influences women’s entrepreneurship, including their motives and available resources, rather than only concentrating on offering support and training to specific women entrepreneurs.
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