Diversity in tech: time to check our privilege

CT-water

A couple of weeks I spoke to speak on diversity in the South African tech space at Net Prophet. The talk addressed issues around race (mostly) and gender in the tech space. How can tech solve some of the gender issues and race issues in the country and perhaps beyond? How are companies and the tech industry at large dealing with fact there aren’t enough women and people of colour in tech in SA and Africa at large? From an entrepreneurial point of view.

It is such a big conversation that I felt that I needed more time to discuss I feel about this topic and some of the ways we need to start addressing it. Also, the need for context. We automatically assume the lack of something means a lack of interest or a lack of trying by other parties. When it comes to race and gender and entrepreneurship, it is a bit more complicated than that.

People get very defensive and protective when diversity comes up in their industry or company. They needn’t be. I am going to tell you something no one else will. This problem isn’t a problem but an opportunity to build change and find solutions that don’t impose on people but help and support. It is a great and important challenge that is necessary.

Why diversity matters: McKinsey and Company study

Companies with a racially and ethnically diverse leadership are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.Companies with a gender diverse leadership are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

McKinsey and Company makes the business case why diversity should be taken seriously by companies. But there is also the logically moral case. Businesses should be reflective of the society and industry that they exist in. If your company refuses to employ and empower women and people of colour how does it expect to succeed in a society where huge percentages are made up of women and people of colour?

The conversation around diversity needs to shift from what we would like to do what we must do. An entrepreneur trying to solve problems unique to people living in rural Nigeria will never truly succeed unless that entrepreneur talks to and even hires people from that part of the world.

Why are there not enough people of colour and women in tech?

Most people of colour don’t enjoy the prilivlege of being able to go home when it all goes wrong. In black communities there is the notion of “black tax”. Black tax undercuts whatever aspiration young black people have. It is the extra “tax” that the young professional back people are expected to pay to their family immediate and extended. The most publicized case of black tax is footballer Adebayor and the story of how his income was spoken for by family. Most black people don’t have the luxury of entrepreneurship due to circumstantial disadvantages. They cannot afford it. Even if they are not paying black tax they have no support system both financially of emotionally to indulge in starting a business.

There are far too many systematic and circumstantial disadvantages stacked up again people of colour in this country and women on this continent to truly engender an entrepreneurial culture. Culturally women are taught not to entertain careers in tech let alone start businesses in tech. When enough people tell you no, at some point you might start believing that is the right and only answer. The internet on its own has not been kind to women, strong talented women are often shamed and ridiculed by the same industry they are trying to break into. Companies barely recognizes female leadership with very little role models to look up it’s a wonder young girls are not clamoring at the door for tech education and jobs.

Education is also key. Most families find it difficult to support their girl child in a career path they no little about and are not sure it will provide security and life’s comforts. Gender transformation as it is in corporate South Africa and Africa at large is already dismal. Entry into tech can seem near impossible. The few women in real leadership positions are likely paid less than their male counterparts.

Things we can do to improve diversity

Tech companies need to offer better structured and paid internships. Paying intern is a great way to balance out privilege. We need to think about internships as systematically empowering. We need practical solutions for diversity transforms in tech. Companies need to stop choosing candidates algorithmically but more humanly. A diverse interview ensures that each candidate is given fair consideration and presents an opportunity to bust unconscious bias.

There are a number of entrepreneurs that have language barriers against them; vernacular translators could be employed at startup pitches. If not, investors need to make a concerted effort to incorporate what second language speakers are doing. English may be the language of business but Chinese entrepreneurs are not expected to speak English in their pitches are Africans?

Transformation in the tech entrepreneurial space needs to be thought about from a state level. Talented young black people will likely opt for a position in with the state a big corporate because familia responsibilities. Black tax as mention. We need a new form of empowerment to change this. Black Economic empowerment or affirmative actions are not enough, it is time for diversity entrepreneurial empowerment.

The unemployment rate in Africa is on the rise, there are not enough jobs for the people who need them. New jobs must be created and these new jobs will be created by entrepreneurs. It is up to the state to help empower those who will create those jobs.

Cages of construct: the African reality and dream

An African city

Africa loves to adore its women as long as they fit perfectly in their cages of construct. African men love their women, as long as that woman is African enough. African women love their men as long as he can provide and take care of them. These women expect certain things from their men within certain constructs. We dream up these perfect gender roles that make no sense in reality.

I started watching a show called an African City on YouTube, it is about five African women, re-pats, trying to navigate their way through life in a bustling West African metropolis. The stories are interesting and characters have a certain charm about them. Kudos to the creator of the show for giving us five engaging women with enigmatic lexicon that often incite a giggle.

I told a friend about it and he hated the first 10mins, he didn’t like that all the women had done so far was rag on Africa. He kept watching though, and as I write this he is still watching. He is hooked he says, he loves the way the women talk. The show got us talking about being single in 21st century Africa. The rules of engagement on a continent that is supposedly rising. Issues that should command great presence in the national conversation but still finds its way to the bottom of the agenda in most African cities. Things like safe sex and finding a job based on merit.

You hear the crazy made up stats that it is easier to be killed by a terrorist than to get married or date after a certain age as a woman. I love those stats mostly because they get crazier everyday. This show tries to navigate this world of single and ready to mingle in Africa. A world where causal sex is great and abstinence is encouraged as well, a place that people talk about great loves and great lovers. A friend of mine once told me that when you are single in Africa, you get used to being invisible — these women beg to differ.

What got me interested in this show, wasn’t just the lexicon, or the delightful characters. It actually troubled me because it made me painfully aware the constructs around genders in Africa. In Europe it is alright to go dutch (these women say) on a date but in Africa men as expected to pay for everything. We joke about it all the time about these women who expect things from the men they date. His intellect is optional, thinking is optional so long as his wallet is available and the cards are platinum. Really?

Then there are the men. Who expect the women to be erotically beautiful and dutifully domesticated. The men who are happy to treat women both as goddesses to be adored, as well as sexual playthings. These women are mutually exclusive it seems. They will marry the goddess but not the playthings. The construct is quite laughable really. On my last trip to Nigeria an older gentleman told me: “in Africa we love our women, all kinds of ways. From the front to the back and sometimes on her knees.” It was disgusting and I pitied him, he is married and has three daughters. I worry for his daughters.

Modern African men don’t wear wedding bands apparently. When navigating dating in Africa, a friend gave me some sound advice, “assume everyone he is married until they prove you otherwise”. According to her, if you begin this way then it is a pleasant surprise when they are not — mostly they are she says. Men lie is the lesson apparently, something the women of An African City drive home.

These African gender constructs are so schizophrenic and complex that trying to meander your way through leads to questions and frustrations. What does it mean to be a man in Africa today? What does it mean to be a woman in Africa today?

Is there some maniacal genius to these constructs? If we imagine that they have one solitary architect. The creator watches as African men and women struggle with the confines of their constructs while fastening the locks on the cages with smiles and inconsequential remarks. Must be nice – not.

Who teaches the young boy to be a good man?

woods cellophane

A few weeks ago, I was invited to talk to young girls about the consequences of “naked selfies” and putting too much of themselves online. When I was asked to do this talk, it was explained to me that the internet is a hard place to for women and it was best to prepare young girls for those harsh realities now rather than later. Young girls the world over are having their sexuality used as a weapon against them — this is tragic. 

Though I agree that the internet is not fair to women, what we keep failing to teach young girls is that the world is not fair to women or any minority. Preparing people for the consequences of what some may deem as “not great choices” is one thing, but why don’t we teach people to change their world. 

In recent years revenge porn has become the norm, break up with someone and in a moment of anger and haste said person posts a “naked selfie” once shared in confidence, to the world. I have heard many arguments on this issue. On one side of the fence, people say young girls today are degrading themselves by taking these pictures and sending them to these young boys. On the other hand of the issue people say these young women have the right to do with their bodies what they want. What I haven’t heard is the role of the young boys. 

Young boys seem to be given a free pass in this situation. There is a fence, and on that fence there are women on either side, women who should be ashamed and women who should own it. Women discuss this issue of how young girls are behaving. Women and men talk about how young girls need to stop behaving. Who is talking about how the young boy behaves? While we are all busy worrying about how our young girls behave, what they post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, has someone asked what the young boys are doing?

When a young boy slut shames a 13 year old girl, who sits him down and discusses the consequences of what he has done? Who talks to him about betrayal and the cost of ‘shame’? Who explains that he has taken advantage and that someone is suffering for it? Better yet, who makes sure this actually never happens?

No matter how far we seem to come, how many campaigns go viral and voices rise up for equality on all fronts, society still puts the young boy above the young girl. I see school teachers making pleas on Facebook for people re-share posts so the young girls in their classes can see the viral nature of the internet. They do this because they hope it will stop them from sharing pictures in their bras or suggestive images on social media. I want to see the teacher that says “share this so the young boys in my class can see how hurtful it is to betray someone to the world”. So they can see how far their act of revenge can easily destroy a person’s life. How a joke can cost someone their future. 

Revenge porn is the norm and many women are having their lives ruined by men who once promised to love and protect them. We see it everyday and as women, we want to change it, we want to correct behave. We accept our sexuality so no one can use it as a weapon against us. 

But, how did these young boys grow up to be men that behave like this? While we so busy teaching young girls to be good girls, who teaches the young boy to be a good man?

Faces of feminism: the age of the selfie

Selfie collage

“The act of women taking selfies is inherently feminist, especially in a society that tries so hard to tell women that our bodies are projects to be worked on and a society that profits off of the insecurities that it perpetuates. Selfies are like a ‘fuck you’ to all of that, they declare that ‘hey I look awesome today and I want to share that with everyone’ and that’s pretty revolutionary.” — Lindsay Bottos.

The internet is a hard place for women. It is the place where slut-shaming has become second nature, the home of the self righteous and a cesspool of hate. You can pretend it doesn’t exist but you aren’t you tired of running out excuses for this stubborn denial? Yet more proof is Lindsay Battos, a 21-year old who dared to express herself the way she wanted. The internet’s response: vitriol and mocking. Battos didn’t ask those people to read her site she simply existed in the vast space known as the web.

The conversation of what is feminism seems to keep popping up in recent years especially since we have been gifted with so many ways of expressing ourselves. Our latest tool for express is Facebook-owned photo sharing app Instagram, a new societal favourite. The rise of Instagram has give way to an onslaught of self portraits (selfies). Some skeptics will argue that for feminism the act of taking a photo of yourself posing and then sharing it with the world is more an act of vanity than defiance against the status quo. I, like Battos, and many other women disagree. It can be said that “selfies” as a form of activism is simply setting up the gender debate to fail because what does beauty and photographs to do with feminism?

Everything.

One of the biggest failing in female representation is the “Media Woman”. The way women are represented in the media has left a society of impossible aspirations, abused and fragile self confidences. The Media Woman is both offensive and demeaning. So the personal selfie taken by young women to express their self love and appreciation of their bodies and their beauties is the ultimate form of rebellion. It’s not just women either, men too take selfies and express their mainlines and self appreciation so why is it bad thing that finally we have a society rising up to be themselves.

We are as society, not just women, have given up our control to make up our own minds. We have allowed ourselves to be bullied by the media, to be bullied by the state and the greatest disservice of all, to be bullied by each other. We embody complacency and acceptance. Cruelty has become common place and the internet has help amplify our vile. It is terrible state of affairs.

The selfie is liberating. It is friendship. It is caring and gentle reminder that there nothing wrong you with you.

As an often lone traveller, the selfie is a paramount component of my journeys through the globe. As an expat with most of my good and oldest friends all over the world, the selfie serves as a reminder to friends and from friends of where we are and what we are up to. We may jest about the selfie and its frequency but we dare not discredit its power.

When shared, the selfie is a tribute to the ferociousness of your personality, an ode to your mischievousness and a welcomed explosion of the youthfulness of your spirit. The selfie takes nothing from you but gives you freedom. It is an indication that you are who you have chosen to be and an incandescent salut to your soul.

The feminist dilemma: I am not a manifesto

feminism-now-what

This is not about one single globe trotting adventure but the trip of this year.

“You’re such a feminist,” a friend once told me. I looked at him mildly assumed, he meant it as a compliment because that is what every progressive woman wants to hear.

As a black woman I am held to different standards, I am a minority that must strive for more even harder and more fervently. There is an even higher glass ceiling that I must break through, or so I am told by successful women of my race. I am lucky, I have worked hard and very few people have tried to stand in the way of what I want. However, the glass ceiling that concerns me more is not my career it what society seems to think is acceptable to demand of me.

The more successful I get the more of a shrew I become in society, I am told that I will never find happiness because I am determined to be a feminist about life.

“You’ll never find a husband the way you are carrying on,” I was told at my sister’s wedding.
“What makes you think I want one?” I responded.
“Because you are a woman.”
“So?”
“Because what’s your worth is if you are not married,” the final response that silenced me.

My worth. I should not have given it a second thought but I gave it the better part of a year (and we will come back to this).

Months later, I posted photos of brownies I made on Instagram and a friend sent me a text message as a friendly warning.

“Why do you domesticate yourself so,” the text began. “You are so smart, all that baking and homey stuff diminishes your feminism.”

Women today face a dilemma of publicly rising to their feminist status and upholding the unwritten manifesto that defines women as such. I have never stepped up on any world stage and claimed to be radical feminist but because I believe in equality then I am. I do not reject it but I must now address it because my worth is neither bound to marriage or the feminist movement.

I believe in equality. I refuse to be bound by the shackles of society and norms and ideals built on some preconceived idea of what a woman, a man and a human being ought to be. I am not a manifesto, I am not shackled by false ideas of “sisterhood” that benefits a conversation for a platform that divides us from them. I refuse to be defined by a mob mentality because as a feminist it is expected.

I believe in equality. I refuse to be in society that teaches me to shrink myself in more than expand to experience the world. I am not a manifesto. I want the same rights that everyone else have. I have always said that equality does not mean the same. Equal should not mean exact halves of a whole but two different halves that make up a whole.

In Africa feminist means western ideals. Being an empowered woman means you have read too many books, watched too many movies and listened to many speeches. It is a society that condones slut shaming, a global pandemic, where it is okay to disgrace and publicly chastise women for their sexual behaviour but the men are praised for their worldliness.

Women in today’s society have mastered the art of perfecting pretence and civility, where they accept and play their role. Women fight for things they believe in but still worked hard to diminish their shine because society teaches us to. Women get dressed in the morning and worry what the look will relay, because all this is expected.

A friend once told me that she only gets complimented when she is in dress simply because it was a dress that showed off her legs. Yes the dress does look nice and she does look lovely and the compliments may be genuine. But we live in a world that teaches us to be cautious about everything especially when you are a woman. Why does no one compliment her when she is jeans she asked. Why indeed?

Women undermine other woman who dare to be stay at home mums belittling their sacrifice because it is un-feminist to choose to stay home and take care of your family. Women are taught to compete with each other for the affections of man and not be bold enough go to after what or who they want. We are dragged on by the chains of ideas born out of ignorance and ideologies as old as time. We bare the cross of compromise because someone must relent.

Women wage emotional wars on each other or unite in the fight against men when the real issue is to drive sustainable change and build a truly equal society. We search for the whores and ice queens because there is a category that everyone must fit, the perfect cage constructed out of civility.

Being part of the feminist movement does not define my worth. Women have made me feel less empowered than men have. Women have judged me more harshly than any man I have known. I refuse to be part of a platform that decides that my worth is one or the other. We have become so focused on telling the feminist story and upholding the ideals that we forget the human stories and human beings that make up the sexes.

I do not write this because I seek validation of who I am or who I hope to be. I write this because the world seems quite determined to pontificate about me, my gender, my race and my role here and I thought it was high time I chimed in.

I am a feminist but I am not your feminist. I believe in the social and political equality of the sexes.