Majority of the Kenyan startups paint a picture of male-dominated ventures, 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 at the moment, like the iHub, 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 , WECREATE KENYA , Women In Tech Africa (WITA) Kenya Chapter and AkiraChix have been set up to encourage and support young women interested in pursuing tech-related careers and entrepreneurship ventures. Just a month ago, Andela Kenya was recruiting interested women to pursue a career in software development. There are fewer female developers in Kenya compared to their male counterparts.
Startups like Wezatele are just among the few women-led startups here in Kenya that managed to have a successful 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.
Kenyan entrepreneurship ecosystem is growing and this is expected to improve in the near future. However, there are not so many female role models to motivate other women to venture into entrepreneurship. That’s why a few women like Tabitha Karanja of Keroche Breweries and Julie Gichuru a successful media mogul make headlines because they have curved out their niche to be among Kenya’s top successful female entrepreneurs. Why do you think women make headlines yet there are so many successful male entrepreneurs.
I was fortunate to have been raised up in a family that believed in a “Women 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 undergo incubation and now running 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 Being In The Lead
Women make great leaders. This is because we’re naturally perfectionists and we believe in things being done in order adhering to all the rules. 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. All these qualities make up a great leader.
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. Women are more empathetic compared to men and this might hinder them from making crucial business decisions. 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 What You’re Capable Of
Startups are usually slowed down by co-founder wrangles that emanate from equity distribution. Most of the time, it’s the developers who feel they deserve more equity because they created the app or platform. Or the female co-founder given less equity compared to her male founding partners. This necessitates the wise choosing of co-founders. 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 Care of yourself.
As a woman, taking care of yourself is the first step to having a healthy body and mind. As much as you are engulfed in your work responsibilities, you also have to find time to take care of your family and yourself. Women usually have more responsibilities and 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.