Sharon Georgewill is an intelligent young woman with a hearty smile. Determined not to fit into the traditional mould of a techie with a laptop in her backpack, her CV and accomplishments at her age will astonish you.
Sharon is former country director-Global Volunteer, for AIESEC in Ethiopia, a front-end Web developer, and a serial entrepreneur. She is passionate about technology and youth leadership, and has had the opportunity to work with large international technology and youth organizations like Google inc, WAAW Foundation, AIESEC, CHAI. She has been a mentor and judge for the Global Technovation challenge, to support and encourage girls to join technology. Sharon is currently working on launching a social enterprise- a business incubator for young women in Ethiopia, and is interested in how digital startups can catalyze economic development in Africa. She is also former county lead, Women in Tech Africa and former leader Women Techmakers Port-Harcourt
There is nothing like some sugar to get women talking so we met over milk shakes (very amazing ones i must add) at the newest rave in town, Sweet Tooth, GRA, Port-Harcourt to talk about challenges women in tech face, particularly those in Port-Harcourt and how to overcome them. From women in tech’s pay, STEM education, sexual harassment in the industry, nothing was off limits. There were lots of laughs and even though the interview got to a shaky start, I must say this is one of the interviews I have thoroughly enjoyed.
How she got into tech
I’ve always been a technical person. It was something I rushed into at the time in university because I had a circle of friends who were geeks and i was in my own space studying a science course. I was also a geek myself because I was doing a lot of technical stuff behind. I was going for classes and going back home so I was drawn to the technical side of life
I ventured into it when my friend was the Google student ambassador at Uniport at the time, they would guide me through the whole process when i was going for small events. They left after a year and the next set came in and they were also my friends. I’d go for those events and sometimes i’d be the only female there. That was in 2013.
How she handled being the only female among loads of guys
Before now I was very reserved and timid. Imagine me like that being in the midst of guys. It was sort of intimidating but I knew what i wanted and I knew I wanted to grab a lot of knowledge and push myself and do lots of things. I kept attending these events. Sometimes I’d attend and see another female and id be really happy. It felt intimidating at the time but I had to stay back because i was in it for a reason.
How she started on her own
Afterwards, i picked interest in it big time and I had friends who gave me loads of videos, books and tutorials and I was reading things like Dreamweaver. There were simple processes and simple softwares but there were all these platforms difficult for me to grab. It started small and if I had issues id ask the guys. I was basically learning on my own
Biggest job done
I stuck to websites. I built this website freelance for a client in Finland once, for a food processing platform.
When I attended events I used to be the only female there. Sometimes they would assist you but one thing I didn’t get was a lot of support from those in my industry. There were more guys then and even still now. Even though women are venturing into computer science or STEM related courses you still find a lot of men there
Somehow it helped me grow because even when the support wasn’t there I still had to do the work but the main thing I suffered was lack of support. I mean support in terms of helping you grow. Being in tech, i shy away from asking for help because of intimidation. Most of them are really good and I’m wondering how I could ask them for help. On my own I wished they would have taken more interest and asked on the challenges I have, where are you right now, how can we help, whether i’m stuck. A lot of those questions help females
I see people are still struggling. I have been managing communities and I am still managing communities right now. I see ladies in the communities coming for events. They enjoy the event but after that, what next. What do they do with the knowledge they have gotten from the events. So because I have gone through that phase I sometimes message them to check up on them and to find out how we can help them in the community and they start dishing their problems out and we find a way to guide them around those issues. I’ve seen women on these community groups and not saying jack and they are supposedly in technology.
On what women in technology means
(She lets out an interesting laugh). Well as long as you use technology, as long as you browse with your smart phone, you are a woman in technology. It’s not a selected group of people. May not be the way it’s supposed to be but that is what it is right now. But it doesn’t matter as long as you use technology or something centered around tech whether a man or woman you are definitely a person in technology.
I don’t see myself as a woman in tech. My male tech friends wonder why we use the phrase woman in tech. Does it mean there are men in tech. There was a time people started the argument about women collecting all the glory in tech because women want to be more famous
With challenges women face, it may be necessary to create that space. Women like to feel special so we like our own space. I manage communities. When we have general events you see them being in one corner and not mixing up and you find out why they aren’t participating. They want women in tech and they want to enjoy that space because they feel there’s a lot of comfort there
On whether women having their own space limits them
Having their own space naturally happens. Women don’t want something complicated or something with a lot of technicality. At a point i got into a phase where i didn’t want to do anything technical where i wanted to do more of design. I spoke to some people and they said no you need to come out of that and do what you want to do. Naturally women want to be in the creative space because they feel they get more attention there
On why we don’t have so many women in the tech space
I think it starts at an early stage. I also worked in an organisation where they were out to promote STEM education for African girls. We had a lot of outreaches for secondary schools where we did a lot of STEM trainings for schools and we were all females. This helped to change the girl’s mentality and helped to change the perception girls have of technology. One of the things that happens is that we don’t start off at an early age to create an awareness that computer science or STEM courses are not difficult and they are things women can have a career in
Peculiar challenges women in tech in Port-Harcourt face
I’ve been in the tech community and I’ve also been in diversity groups as well. I’ve seen how people respond to women in the group. We are a long way from appreciating women in this space. Sometimes when we have events with a particular gender in technology you see people run away from it. They claim to be supportive but aren’t really. Several times I’ve had to organise several events for women. So Google has a separate community for women in tech. They appreciate diversity and they want men to support, to share with us and support in any way they can. It never happens. They come but they don’t help out in organisation. From planning to execution to evaluation, no help. Sometimes i organise events and i try to get women to help out. They come and have fun at the event and go. Unlike when men have their own events, women chip in to help because we like organising naturally
Sometimes it comes to a head and I say i won’t die because i’m a woman in technology but at other times it makes you stronger. But not every woman has that self motivation and it can turn you off
On sexual harassment in the industry
I’ve been approached by people who want a favour from you because they are doing something for you. It happens but it’s not peculiar to the tech space.
Discrepancies in Pay
Yes there are discrepancies in pay for men and women. I advise women to be sure that the fault is not from you and you have enough skills to deliver the job. Ensure that before you do the job, you agree on what you will be paid. If it’s not agreeable, you can decline. If you settle for the low pay and you find out you are being over worked more than the amount, you can just walk away. I’ve had those times i had to walk away. It’s not something everywoman is aware off. I’ve had those experiences when i was paid lesser than i should have probably not because i was a woman but because of the experience
Living in Ethiopia
Every moment is remarkable. It was overwhelming because Ethiopia is known as the capital of Africa when it comes to diplomatic matters. Being in that space where i could connect with diplomats was mind blowing.
Advice to young girls
Don’t let people scare you off. Do what you need to do. Don’t see STEM courses as male dominated. Follow your dreams
What Government ought to do
As much as girls are right now not into computer science, the environment is not friendly. Govt should have an enabling environment where people doing tech can thrive and launch their products into the market
On what the tech scene in PH needs
Port-Harcourt is still dependent on the oil and lot of work needs to be done. However, i don’t see the dream of PH becoming the best place to launch a start-up happening anytime soon because there is still a lot we need to put together here. What i see could be a threat to that dream is PH techies not being collaborative. Everyone is trying to do their thing and don’t want to come together to see how they can launch or how they can help each other. Everyone just wants to release their product and build their business. Some people don’t even understand the Port-Harcourt environment. They feel PH is the next big thing so let’s just grow it by bringing out our product and put it in the market, they haven’t understood the market. They think this tech person has brought our their product. Let me just bring out my product. So without collaboration, i don’t see that happening. If investors want to expand to PH, there’s no collaborative environment. Lots of products scattered everywhere and not much users.
Interview by Adaora Okoli, founder and publisher, TechcultureNG.com.
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