Who runs the world? GIRLS.
We should all know this by now. Girls are incredible. And yet here we are in 2015, and the tech industry is still a male-dominated one. Did you know that only 7% of tech start-ups are led by women?
So when I was invited to attend the premiere of the Made With Code “CODEGIRL” film, I screamed and pretty much cartwheeled all the way to Google’s Accra office. The film was being shown to Google staff, leading ladies of the Accra tech world, and a group of secondary schoolgirls from Adabraka, Accra. The girls were viewing the film as part of the awesome Tech Needs Girls program.
CODEGIRL is a docu-film that follows groups of girls from 60 countries, participating in the Technovation 2014 competition. Technovation is a tech entrepreneurship competition that encourages millions of girls to explore the beauty of code. The girls identified problems within their local communities, and developed apps to combat these issues. They tackled problems like violence against women, lack of access to clean water, teenage drink driving, urban waste removal, and negative body image. The film follows the teams as they work on their concepts, design their apps, and travel to San Francisco to compete.
As the competitors shared their stories, I was struck by how familiar their sentiments were. They spoke about the challenges of being a girl in a mostly male field. “People think computer science is for boys,” one girl said. Another expressed her frustration by saying, “People try to ‘pink-ify’ coding and opt for the cute factor. It should be as simple as this: a problem exists in the community. Can you use technology to fix that problem? Gender shouldn’t even come into it!” Preach, mama.
Once the film ended, it was time for a Q&A session with some of the most inspiring women on the Accra tech scene: The lovely Estelle Akofio-Sowah (country manager of Google Ghana), Regina Agyare (Tech Needs Girls Gh) Doris Anson-Yevu (Founder of Photowalk Ghana), Cassandra Mensah-Abrampah (Program Manager at Google Ghana), and Naa Oyoo Quartey (Creator of lifestyle blog naaoyooquartey.com).
L-R: Estelle Akofio-Sowah, Regina Agyare, Cassandra Mensah-Abrampah, Naa Oyoo Quartey
Estelle reminded the schoolgirls that engineering could help them solve problems in a fun and creative way. She asked them about some of the problems they saw in their local community, and whether they could think of apps to alleviate the issues. There were some real gems! From apps that could help with urban flooding awareness, to ones that could ease Accra’s ongoing electricity crisis. You better look out for these girls- I feel like our first female president was in that room!
The girls were then asked who their favourite team in the CODEGIRL film was. The unanimous answer was Team Charis (spoiler alert- they won the competition); the Nigerian girls who created an app to deal with ineffective waste removal in urban areas. I could see how excited the Adabraka schoolgirls were. They were seeing girls who looked exactly like them on screen, smashing gender stereotypes by winning a tech competition. Listen, people! THIS is why positive representation of young black girls in the media is so important.
We then discussed the challenges that female coders and engineers face in Ghana. A couple of the ladies from the Google office explained that in this male-dominated field, they had to work extra hard to shine. Is there a woman reading this who doesn’t know that feeling? This quote in particular stuck in my head: “In Ghana, as a woman, people already doubt you. So [being an engineer] is challenging, but the outcome is awesome.”
Estelle asked the girls how many of them would like to become coders or engineers when they grew up. One shy hand went up. Then another. And then another, until I legit felt like I could cry with pride.
The schoolgirls were given some useful resources, so they could start to learn how to code. Some of the resources named were Code.Org and The Code Academy. Dang, I might even join them and upskill myself! Being able to insert a cheeky line break does not a coder make…
Finally, Estelle gave the girls a few words of advice:
1. The biggest risk is not taking a risk. So go for it.
2. Keep at it. There will be times when you don’t get a good grade or you’ll struggle with coding. But don’t quit.
3. Always think about the user and keep their experience at the front of your mind.
I left the event feeling inspired and hopeful. I remember years ago when I was working in Australia, I met an elderly Kenyan gentleman at the bank. We got chatting and he asked what I did for a living. When I told him I was a digital marketing specialist, he looked at me in shock and said, “Ah! Isn’t that a white man’s job? How come you’re doing it?” I was taken aback.
But then I smiled and replied with the truth: “Because I was raised to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to.”
I’m so proud that thanks to inspirational role models like Estelle, Naa, Doris, Cassandra and Regina, a new generation of unstoppable Ghanaian girls is on its way.
Huge thanks to Google for the invite!