Women’s month: Reflections from a woman in tech

Over the last year within MTN Rwanda, I have watched several young men and women take on and flourish in new roles across the organization. I am particularly encouraged by some young women in our Technology Department that have grown into senior engineers and formidable managers of teams.

Each time I see them excel, I am reminded of my own journey that led me to the exciting world of technology. I first joined the telecommunications world as a fresh IT graduate, but you would be surprised to learn that this was not always the plan.

Having excelled at Maths and Sciences in High School, I was placed in the school of Natural Science at University, taking courses such as Biology, Physics and Chemistry. The end goal for me was not clear at the time, but I foresaw that I would be a bio-chemical scientist of some sort. As fate would have it though, two months into my studies, the university I was attending closed indefinitely leaving me no choice but to hurriedly apply to another school.

Applying to this new university, I naturally put down Natural Sciences as my first and only academic preference. This was risky because if this stream were fully subscribed, I would have had to opt for whatever other courses were left. Lo and behold, I arrived at the new university only to find the Natural Sciences intake was full and the only other under-subscribed stream was Computer Science.

Unsure about whether technology was “my thing”, I spoke to the department head for advice, whose words I will never forget, “with a training in computer science or technology, you get a degree in ‘versatility’ – you can literally work in any industry”. With that said – my path was set, and I went on to study Computer Science and later a Master’s in Information Technology. So, yes, I am an IT Engineer albeit by accident, and have zero regrets on what has been a most exciting and futuristic path.  

I am an IT Engineer by training, Telecom CEO by profession but also daughter of a very fierce gender equality advocate of a mother. I have thought about her a lot in this month of March when we celebrate women. Ever since I can remember, my mother has held strong beliefs in the boundless capabilities of women.

With words like “Mitwa, you must make something of yourself, for yourself and for others”, she has built me into who I am today. She also believes that one should never make apologies for being the voice representing women as they have historically started a few paces behind in the race to success and thus deserve all the support they can get if we are to achieve a gender equal world.

In 2015, all UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Goals for Development which are an urgent call to action by all countries. Goal 5 is achieving gender equality. It is said that we cannot achieve peace and prosperity now and into the future if this goal is not met.

Gender equality comes with massive implications. According to McKinsey, advancing women’s equality in Africa could add $316 billion or 10% to GDP by 2025.  Further, the World Bank reiterates that boosting female employment and economic diversification can make the difference between a gainful decade and a lost one.

It is well documented that diversity and inclusion make companies more innovative, customer centric and profitable. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that companies that have more diverse management teams, have 19% higher revenue due to innovation. This finding is huge for tech companies where innovation is key for growth.

In the telecommunications world, the gender gaps are slowly closing however there is still a lot of work to do. According to the GSMA, in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a 37% gender gap in mobile internet use and women are 8% less likely than men to own a mobile phone.

At MTN Rwanda, we are hyperaware and sensitive to these statistics. We constantly challenge ourselves to find innovative ways to contribute to the closure of this gender gap.

Through the MTN Foundation, we recently launched the second edition of the Connecting Women in Business initiative that seeks out and provides financial support to cooperatives that are formed and led by women.

On my recent visit to Rubavu, it was great to see the positive impact that this support has had on last year’s winners. My heart smiled listening to how Cooperative Twivane Mu Bukene in Cyanzarwe sector, doubled the size of their farmland and thus their product yield on the back of the support they received last year.

Internally, our commitment has been to increase the participation of women in leadership and technical roles. The biggest step in this direction was the establishment of the Women’s Empowerment Network (WeNet) within MTN Rwanda whose mission is to provide a forum for MTN Rwanda’s women to educate, empower and inspire each other.

With WeNet, we have seen the implementation of initiatives that are aimed at preparing women for opportunities within the organization. These initiatives include public speaking trainings, mock interviews, mentoring programs to mention but a few and in only one year, we are already seeing the fruits of these initiatives.

On the softer side, the network, which I too am a part of, is built on the principle that each and every one of us is our sister’s keeper. Sisters keep each other honest, push each other to step out of their comfort zones, and encourage one another to do more and be more. WeNet has only been in existence for a year, but in that time, we have seen more women stepping up to apply for jobs, speaking up and making their views heard.  I am super proud of them all and while we are encouraged by early results, we are only inspired to do more. Diversity and inclusion remain an important pillar of focus at MTN Rwanda.

It is important for us all to keep an eye on the goal of achieving gender equality by 2030. We need to be intentional and specific on the steps we are taking to contribute to attaining this goal. As leaders of organizations – it starts with awareness; how many women do we have in our organizations? Do we know their participation levels at all ranks of the organization? Are we aware of any disparities that exist?

We may not be able to resolve all gaps over night, but awareness is the first step in getting to a gender equal world. I wake up every morning not thinking of myself as a female CEO but simply as a CEO, leading an organization to the best of my ability. I look forward to a world where there is no longer a “first woman to do this” or the “first woman to do that” – but simply a world where there are professionals all living the best versions of themselves.  So yes, this year and for time to come, I #ChooseToChallenge.

mtn.co.rw