Are Igbo Customs and Traditions Hindering Women in South-East from Becoming Tech Entrepreneurs?

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According to a report released in 2019, Nigeria tech startups attracted US$122 Million in funding and the number of investors in African tech startups is expected to increase. In Africa, only 9% of startups have women leaders according to a 2016 study by Venture Capital for Africa, a Netherlands-based organization that connects startups to opportunities.

In 2015, CNN reported that in the technology industry, few women attempt startups and there are arguments that female founders and entrepreneurs get far less of proportion funding from venture capital firms and investors, with many noting that there are a lot of gaps in investment in women-led startups vs male-led startups. This is something that some women funders and entrepreneurs are also trying to address with many female entrepreneurs constantly asking questions such as, “Why do female entrepreneurs continue to receive less money than their male counterparts?”, Why are startups founded by women garnering fewer investments?.

Despite projects, grants and start-up ecosystem aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs in technology and technology-related ventures, the daunting obstacles facing women in the tech industry still persists. Indeed, not everyone wants to become an entrepreneur but some experts have argued that more women technology entrepreneurs in the region could be a boost to getting more young women to pursue careers in STEM. Studies have also shown that representations of women in science and technology can have positive effects on people’s general understanding and perception of women’s scientific ability.

There are lots of complexities in running a successful business in Nigeria and this often seems to affect women more due to some major factors such as unconscious gender bias, culture and media stereotypes. Initiatives aimed at increasing the participation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the region have included programs mainly focused on mentorship opportunities, internships and providing training programs. However, pervasive cultural stereotypes, media perceptions of women in STEM fields, and few women role models all constitute stumbling blocks to attracting young women to pursue careers in STEM fields and to become technology entrepreneurs.

Igbo Culture and Women

The Igbo constitute one of the major tribes in Nigeria and they are known to be socially and culturally diverse with various customs, traditions and practices. In the past, many Igbo women were not economically empowered and they were only allowed to do menial jobs that earned them little or no money. Most of these women depended on their husbands for financial support and so faced a variety of economic and social constraints.

Many families in the South-East region tend to value their male child over their female child and often advise their female children to be “submissive and humble” and to pursue “less male-dominated careers” so as to attract “a good man” for marriage. Injustice to the women manifest in various forms and the women are often relegated to the background.

This is no doubt that a subconscious process where all experiences, including the stories and narratives experienced through culture is incorporated to build stereotypes and these stereotypes become patterns. Patterns and behaviors that the female child is “only suited for soft jobs.” It is also a well-known fact that stereotypes can have significant effects on a person’s behavior and achievement.

Perception by Other Females and Few Role Models

Most times, perceptions of women in STEM are filtered through stereotypes. In a survey carried out by Nuecla Nigeria Services, an information technology consulting firm in 2018 to ascertain women’s experiences in working with other women in the technology space; 34% of females who completed the survey said they preferred working with a man as a boss rather than a woman, 32% said they preferred working with a woman as their boss while 34% were neutral and do not mind working with either a woman or man as their boss. People with no measurable explicit prejudice demonstrate implicit biases, not only towards other people but also towards themselves.

Few women role models in STEM in the region also continue to fuel the beliefs that women are not suited for STEM jobs. A widespread stereotype about STEM being mainly an area for men has caused many girls in secondary schools in the region to drop out of STEM study as soon as they finish secondary education and those in the university to consider other non-STEM jobs even when they graduate with high grades. This automatically limits career options for women and decreases the pipeline for qualified women STEM professionals.

What Can We Do?

Some female founders and entrepreneurs believe that many women need to fully understand the risks and challenges in running a business through training while some have stressed the importance of mentoring and training younger startups and startup founders in search of capital.

There is a need to also promote access to resources that are gender-inclusive particularly in Africa where there are a lot of cultural barriers and where women are mostly seen as child-bearers and home managers.

When women see other women in leadership positions, hear other women share their experiences, network with women leading companies, and running venture capital firms; it tends to motivate them more and help them to aspire to become one. However, one major question to pound on is “Are we underrating culture and its influence on female entrepreneurs?”

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