Microsoft has named Kenya and South Africa among eight countries it intends to duplicate its Cloud Accelerator Programme. An immersive six-month programme designed to help women-led companies start and build their businesses through Microsoft and its cloud distribution channels, the cloud accelerator has already been a success with thirty startups, including twelve in Seattle.  

“At the end of the day, if we’re not getting them set up to succeed from a technology perspective, if we’re not allowing women access to cloud and AI technology of the future and we’re not giving them access to capital and they’re not able to get the corporate contracts, those businesses go under,” said Gretchen O’Hara, Microsoft vice president and co-founder of Women in Cloud.

While illustrating the challenges faced by women in tech, O’Hara noted that women account for only eighteen percent of computer science degrees. And while forty percent of new businesses are women-owned, only twenty percent of C-Suite leaders are women. Perhaps more dreadfully, only one percent of women tech entrepreneurs win corporate contracts.

These and other reasons inform the bulk of Women in Cloud’s advocacy, as the accelerator programme gives women-owned technology companies access to the cloud, mentorship, networking windows and opportunities to introduce women-led innovations into the market.

Leadership is where it all happens in business. But statistics show that not only do few African women make it up there, even fewer get to be heard. That is why, for instance, while half of Africa’s startups have female co-founders, only nine percent of women-led startups received funding between 2012 and 2017, a gap that shows how seriously, or not, women are taken at negotiation tables. And perhaps more importantly, who is sitting on the ‘decision’ side of those tables.

Already, culture-fueled misogyny makes it impossible for women to feel welcomed in the tech space. Which is why despite the efforts of over thirty-nine different initiatives aimed at opening the tech world to women, there was only a seven percent gain in the number of tech women last year. Which is why once they step in, they’re not immediately running to the door, seeking to lead, as men would. After all, it’s the men who are guarding the door.

South Africa appears twice on Forbes list of sixty nations where women-led startups are shaking the globe, along with two other African nations. Essentially, women entrepreneurs in Africa are making a grab for it just as their male counterparts are, but it’s the women who are coming up, far too often, empty-handed.

While analyzing MasterCard’s Index of Women’s Entrepreneurship for 2018, Women in Tech observed that women-led businesses are collapsing due to unprofitability. Women are literally starting businesses at the same rate other women-led businesses are folding. Women in Tech noted that one way to ensure that female-led businesses succeed is “through networking with like-minded women. Learning from other people’s journeys is crucial to achieving success in the sector.”

Bristling with the same entrepreneurial spirit as the men, few women stay in business. But even fewer ever start at all in the tech space. Not only is it hard to start, but it is also harder to stay up without actual business. If, as O’Hara said, only one percent of women-led tech startups win contracts, that figure is possibly grimmer in Africa.

Odunayo Eweniyi, co-founder and CEO of Piggybank NG, blames the “old boys club” cult, where business deals are decided within typically-male social environments like bars and men’s clubs, places where “self-respecting women” are not expected to make an appearance.  

Things are changing, thanks to the advocacy of women like Eunice Baguma Ball, founder of London-based Africa Technology Business Network, a global promoter of African women-led businesses’ access to resources. Ms Ball thinks that alternative networks are required for women to go around gender-imposed barriers in the tech industry.

With initiatives like Microsoft’s, one hopes that when fully-networked, fully-supported, women-led businesses in Kenya and South Africa start raking in the profits they should, freed of traditional barriers, Cloud Accelerator will reach other African countries. Only then can it be said that Africa’s tech space is truly inclusive of women.

By Caleb Ajinomoh

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