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How to get more women into the tech industry

by: Rofhiwa Maneta - 26 August 2015

American social entrepreneur Netia McCray (25) is the founder of youth-focused social enterprise Mbadika. The organisation hosts engineering workshops where children are taught basic engineering principles by making simple DIY kits. In South Africa, McCray has taught young South Africans how to make low-cost, solar-powered USB chargers. The chargers are made from a solar panel, a USB circuit, batteries and other electronic components and allow users to power their phones or USB powered devices.

Here she shares her ideas on how to get more young women into the tech industry.

McCray during a workshop with a group of young South Africans

McCray during a workshop with a group of young South Africans

Encourage young curiosity

Netia’s father often encouraged her interests when she was a child, helping her construct toys from plywood and learn the ins and outs of hardware. She’d also strip her toys and household items to their circuit boards so she could better understand how they work. “I’ve always had a fascination with the world and a curiosity about how things work,” she says over email. “Whenever I disassembled stuff at home, I always thought of myself as a detective unravelling the world’s mysteries. I wanted to understand how the colourful wires and green boards dotted with silver holes would turn on our television or radio.”

Have more female tech entrepreneurs share their stories

A recent study shows that men outnumber women by seven to three in the United States’s technology industry. Representation in both the media and the workplace is one of the problems. Netia herself notes how difficult it was finding female tech entrepreneurs to look up to. “Women in tech are rarely given a platform to share their successes with the world. So, for little girls like me, having a tech career seemed as realistic as being a fairytale princess. If we want to see more women encouraging other women to enter the tech industry, we must start providing a platform for them to share their stories to young girls.”

Guiding a young girl through the assembly process of the Mbadika Solar USB Charger Kit in Cape Town.

Guiding a young girl through the assembly process of the Mbadika Solar USB Charger Kit in Cape Town.

Find a good mentor

The political sciences graduate also has a healthy list of female changemakers she aspires to emulate. She cites Saran Kaba Jones as one of her biggest influences. Jones is the founder of Face Africa, an organisation that installs water purification systems for Liberian communities. “Her work has provided me valuable insight on how to avoid costly mistakes when implementing large scale projects. If I had attempted to navigate my career solo, I would have quickly left for other more well-trodden paths. My mentor assisted me in my preparation for my career and ensured that I had the ability to take advantage of every opportunity that was available.”

She also suggests exploring local publications and looking through university tech departments for mentors if one doesn’t immediately come to mind. When you find someone, reach out. “Even if you can only reach your mentor through Twitter, Skype or Facebook a few times a year, it’s still worth reaching out. I promise you, more times than not, you’ll find support. We were once in your shoes and we want make your journey a little easier than ours.”

This article was first published on Red Bull Amaphiko