Having more “women in tech” doesn’t necessarily mean more female engineers and developers, but rather getting more young women tech-ready, to see that technology can and must underpin and complement their business ideas.
That is according to Omobola Johnson and Andreata Muforo, who together make up two-fifths of the management team at Africa-focused VC firm TLcom Capital, which is the first focus of a series of case studies and podcasts produced by Disrupt Africa, commissioned by Boost Africa Technical Assistance Facility and financed by the European Union under EDF Thematic Blending and Cotonou Investment Facility.
Female fund managers are very much in the minority worldwide. In the US, only nine per cent of decision makers in the VC space are women. In Africa, no definitive numbers are yet available, but female fund managers are hard to come by – a big mistake for the VC world, as data clearly demonstrates a direct link between gender diversity in teams, and increased profitability. The Diversity dividend: Female fund managers in Africa series (view here, free download here) looks at firms that recognise this truth, and put diversity front and centre.
Johnson and Muforo come from different backgrounds and have followed different career paths, but now they are united in a set of common goals – building VC success stories in the African tech space, and bringing more women into Africa’s tech ecosystem.
Women in tech doesn’t necessarily mean more female engineers and developers, Johnson said. Rather, it’s more about getting young women tech-ready – to see that technology can and must underpin and complement their business ideas.
Few of the male founders that TLcom encounters on a daily basis are “tech founders” in the sense that most don’t come from a hard technical background. But men are more willing to found a tech business based on their ideas, she says.
Muforo adds that in Africa, cultural values around perceived success and failure may contribute to the lack of female entrepreneurs.
“The concept of failure is something that is really looked down upon, so I think many people are deterred from entrepreneurship. But in practice, there’s always something that you learn. It never amounts to nothing. You’ve learned something, and you get up and you try something else as well,” she said.
Both of them have advice for young women considering the tech startup or investment space for their career path – jump in and work hard.
Johnson, during four years in government, saw some “really outstanding” technology entrepreneurs in Africa. So when she was considering her options post-politics, she was drawn to a career path that allowed her to apply her skills gained during 25 years in consulting and her stint in government, in helping these entrepreneurs to thrive.
Muforo’s desire, meanwhile, was motivated by the ability to be closer to the entrepreneur and the business they are pursuing.
“In my previous capacity it was only advisory, but as an investor can be a conduit for capital direct to entrepreneurs, and support their business building,” she said.
“At the time when I joined TLcom, it was still fairly early in the African tech VC ecosystem, so I was more excited about the opportunity to be a manager in a tech VC fund […] because I could see the role that tech is playing in providing the services that African residents and citizens really need, at a more affordable price, with more efficiency, and increasing access,” she said.
Here are Johnson’s thoughts on what it takes to get more women involved in the African VC space.
“When I came into TLcom we started talking about how there’s not enough female entrepreneurs in our deal pipeline, and we need to do something about it. The thing is, unless you are intentional and deliberate about getting more females into any sphere, it’s never going to happen,” she said.
“In general, the world is a better place when both men and women are participating, versus if only half the population is contributing – there’s something that is missed there,” said Muforo.
“It’s more about trying to get to the point where we have representation that allows us to build more holistic, more robust, more sustainable ecosystems, and more sustainable and successful companies,” Johnson said.
The first case study in the series Diversity dividend: Female fund managers in Africa is available to view here and for free download here.
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