“For a long time, to obtain enterprise customers, I concealed the fact that I owned the company. I never lied about it, but I never volunteered that information. My business card didn’t even have a title” — Rebecca Enonchong.
Where are the women in tech? Who are the women building technology or working in technology in Africa? These questions and many more are asked on a daily basis. When it comes to technology in Africa, the general consensus is that women are not present. We beg to differ.
Africa has a range of women working and building cool technology for the continent and the world. To answer the above questions we are launching a new article series that highlights Africa’s tech women. Women who work in technology, women who build technologies and women who are passionate about what technology can do for Africa.
In this, our first installment of African women in tech, we feature Rebecca Enonchong better known as @africatechie, one of the continent’s most prolific tweeters on the subject of tech.
If you want to know anything about tech in Africa, ask Enonchong. She knows everything and is committed to great African innovations. She is on the pulse of Africa’s tech ecosystem and her tweets are always informative. She is the founder of AppsTech, a global provider of enterprise application solutions with a special focus on Oracle.
Building and bringing AppsTech to Africa
When I first started getting to know Enonchong, I found at that she was much more than just an avid tweeter that knew everything there was to know about tech in Africa. She was one of the creators of the tech space that Africa is becoming known for. Her company, AppsTech, provides enterprise application solutions, primarily based on Oracle technology, to companies around the globe. She founded the business while in the United States but later realized that her impact would be better felt back home in Africa.
“There was definitely a need for providers that had a more international slant. Most of our competitors were building a local client base only, leaving the multinationals to the large IT firms,” she tells me.
Technology is playing a big role on the continent and for this sassy entrepreneur it is the “great equalizer”. It has given Africans new ways to create, communicate, innovate and provided avenues for commerce. Africans care about technology like they have never done before.
“For Africa, it’s the opportunity to leapfrog and to be at the forefront of innovation. I love that so much tech news is coming out of Africa, it changes the dialog about what Africa is,” she says.
Working in a troubled ecosystem
There are many success in the African tech ecosystem but there are some key challenges that Africa faces when it comes to technology and innovation. Enonchong reckons that this actually has nothing to with the technology itself.
“The challenges aren’t so much the technology itself but rather the ecosystem,” she says.
For her, Africa’s challenges have more to do with infrastructure than technology. Issues around the availability of capital for startups, cost and supply of energy and internet make it hard for innovators to innovate.
Then there are the businesses themselves. She argues that enterprise-level businesses tend to choose foreign solutions before locally built ones.
“There is still this issue of credibility when it comes to enterprise tech,” Enonchong says.
Profiling women in the tech landscape
Women in the tech space often get asked whether or not they need to act like a man to be a successful woman in tech. Enonchong finds the concept quite laughable.
“You need to act like a professional and you need to be really good at what you do,” she quips. “When people are using tech, they don’t care who designed it, they just want it to work.”
She argues that the conversation about how women go about taking their seat at the proverbial table is very much misunderstood.
“There is still a lot of preconceived ideas about what being a woman in tech, even in the US, let alone Africa,” she says. “Women need to assert themselves through their expertise.”
When people talk about women in tech, often, their comments are emphatic with praise. These women are commended for rising in a man’s world and taking their place. Should it really be this way? Should these conversations not begin to lose their gender bias and simply be about hard-working individuals, who happen to be women. It seems that’s not quite in our future yet.
“We simply can’t afford to be mediocre, or good enough, we have to aim to be the best,” she says. “Women, much more so than men, need external validation of their expertise. So women should go about getting as many certifications as they can. I have almost 100 Oracle certifications and after almost 18 years in the industry, I still do the exams when Oracle releases new technology or new versions.”
Enonchong also notes that there are many misconceptions about being a woman in tech in Africa. The greatest of which, she says that women aren’t at the forefront of innovation.
“There is this image of the woman in tech being the data processor or the call box operator,” she says curiously.
“Yes, those women do exist, but there are also women leading enterprise tech companies, running the mobile operators, designing innovative tech. We need more images of those women in order to change the perception.”
Fighting off the stereotypes: it is always a man’s world
Imagine having to hide your position in your company because of your gender and the stereotypes that followed that gender. Enonchong recalls the early days of her business and having to conceal that she owned her company. The treatment she received from financial institutions in particular leaves much to be desired.
“Banks have a serious problems in dealing with women in general. The assumption is that if you have a woman-led company, it must be a micro-business. So you will get the most junior account relationship manager.”
In Africa this is a big problem, where women’s roles in business are still not taken seriously and they are treated as second class citizens. That’s more than a little incongruous from a continent which touts how ready it is to see women take their place in the world of business.
“I actually experienced a bank in which I had transacted millions of dollars in business in the US, literally wouldn’t let me in the door in Cameroon. I was blocked by the guard who said they only serve ‘businesses’.”
This behaviour isn’t just typical of banks but also clients. Enonchong recalls that on many occasions people automatically assumed that her male colleagues were her boss, or the were the experts they needed to talk to.
“I remember one time I signed a multi-million dollar contract with a French-owned multinational,” she tells me. “There was an issue once on site that required me to intervene. The client representative refused to talk to me, he wanted to speak to our male Vice-President assuming that he was my boss.”