Women Underrepresented in Kenyan Startups

Majority of the Kenyan startups paint a picture of a male-dominated venture, in which women either join the startups as marketers or to carry out the admin tasks of the startup. I don’t dispute that these are also important roles in the startup ecosystem but women are rarely represented as the face of the startup.

I have been to a good number of incubation hubs, of course there are very few incubation hubs in Kenya, like Nailab, Nairobi Garage, iBiz Africa among others, and the picture is really dim when it comes to women-led startups.

In fact, the ratio is about 1 in every 5 in terms of women representation at the founder or co-founder level. I don’t know why women shy away from venturing into entrepreneurship. I have seen a good number fall out of the way after just a few months.
Very few organizations like AkiraChix have come up to encourage and support young women interested in pursuing IT based careers.

Startups like Wezatele are just among the few women-led startups here in Kenya that have managed to exit. You still wonder why it made headlines for a very long time. Otherwise, majority of the startups that exit are all male dominated.
Startups are deemed as ‘masculine’ fields and women who venture into them have faced everything; from sexist comments, harassment, humiliation, to being accused of being emotional and/or weak.

I was fortunate to have been raised up in a family that believed in a “We Can Do Anything” attitude and that’s why I was able to pursue a career in an assumed male dominated industry of Information Technology. I have also been able to run my own startup which is doing quite well. Along the way, I’ve picked up some wisdom about what women need to do to thrive in these diversity-starved startups.

1. Never be shy about leading the way

Women are different than men. We speak differently, we act differently, and we are innately compassionate, great listeners and excel at problem solving. Be yourself and play to both your personal and gender-specific strengths.

2. Speak up
Men are always good at speaking up while women tend to stay silent even in meetings. I am guilty of that and working on it every day. Women think that they should talk only when there’s something extremely important to say.
Women need to ask questions as this makes them part of the conversation and will give them the chance to learn and share their own experiences.

3. Work on your weaknesses

Women just like men have weaknesses that they need to work on. Sometimes reaching out to male colleagues is a positive thing. When you ask them for help is a way of telling them ‘I am not here to fight with you but to learn from you and work with you. Trust me this can be very liberating for both parties.

4. Embrace who you are and what contributions you can make

Startups are usually slowed down by co-founder wrangles that emanate from equity distribution. Listen, when Facebook started, am sure those who had about 2% equity thought they owned nothing, look at them now. It’s better to have 2% of a billion dollar company that 98% of a struggling startup. Being a part of the 14%, and not the 86% majority, does not undermine your value. “Embrace what you are capable of, show it to the world and let them see what you can do.

Your career is in your hands. Do not let a statistic define you, or a number decide your career path.

5. Take very good care of yourself.

Finally, as much as you are engulfed in your work responsibilities, you also have to find time to take care of your family and yourself. Working in a startup is really time draining that you might end up even working for a continuous 48 hours. Find time to exercise, even if it means waking up earlier than usual, and remember to eat healthy – even on the road.

If you are not happy and healthy, the rest will never work.


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