Anie Akpe spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about imposter syndrome, tech careers and what organisations should do to encourage gender diversity.
Anie Akpe started out working in the banking industry, but felt she wasn’t able to utilise her skillset fully. When she considered leaving, her company offered her a position in management, where she worked to find better software solutions for the company.
She helped grow the company’s portfolio in this role, but Akpe couldn’t help but wonder if she could use her knowledge to help others with similar projects. “What I felt in my banking years was that while I had the ability to do this, would anyone else have the ability and, if they did, what tools would they need?”
Akpe, who is originally from Nigeria but is now based in New York, went on to found African Women In Tech (AWIT), an organisation helping girls and women with education and mentorship to grow their careers in the technology sector.
She said that even though she had hosted events for the African diaspora that highlighted women in the US, she decided that it would be more beneficial to launch something in Africa and then bring it into the US. “I felt like it could be a greater impact.”
Akpe started by offering training programmes in areas such as AI, machine learning and blockchain as well as basic business skills.
“I didn’t start it by myself, I actually started it with a bunch of men that are in the tech space but weren’t noticing a lot of women in the tech space,” she said. “With their assistance I was able to launch it and we’ve gone to Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique and Kenya … In February 2020, before we were completely shut down, it was in Uganda.”
Partnering with the right organisations
Akpe believes that when it comes to elevating women and encouraging diversity and inclusion, companies need to look at organisations within that space to partner with.
“A lot of corporations have a lot more access than the rest of us and I think that when they go in to create programmes for their company or look to partner with other organisations, they should look to build up women in that manner,” she said.
“We’re now in a state of digitalisation as the world is reset and unfortunately there’s a lot of young girls and women that may not have some of these tools that we have right now and, even if they did, they’re mostly on their mobile.”
She added that while many people in Africa rely on mobile technology more than those in the rest of the world, the cost of data is so high that many can’t stay online to fully access what they need.
“So to partner with organisations is one of my strongest recommendations as well as creating programmes … which would greatly impact women.”
Advice for women in tech
Akpe said she always tells women that while programming is great, “it is not the only avenue into technology”. She added that everything from implementing systems to writing press releases for tech companies requires some level of understanding in tech but often doesn’t require programming or coding knowledge.
“I think that women should enter the many roles that there are and be aware that it doesn’t require you to be a techie to develop the solution,” she said.
“Also, mentally, just being open enough to want to learn something that you wouldn’t normally have access to learning and being open to accepting that there are things that you may not understand and being OK with asking questions.”
‘A lot of people are eager to share their knowledge and they’re eager to let you know that they know it!’
– ANIE AKPE
Akpe added that sometimes pride can get in the way of asking questions as well the fear of being ‘found out’, often known as imposter syndrome. When this occurs, Akpe said people can often believe they’re not qualified to be where they are.
“You literally forget who you are and forgetting who you are doesn’t allow you to recognise all of the things that you’ve accomplished within any sector of what you’re doing. There are things that you have accomplished that actually has landed you where you are. You didn’t get here by mistake.”
She added that it’s important for people to take the approach of small children and constantly ask questions and be curious. “Who cares if it becomes annoying? But if it makes you that much more successful, by all means ask,” she said.
“Start asking that ‘why’ at least three different times in three different scenarios. It builds that confidence enough for you to say, ‘It’s OK for me to ask these things’. A lot of people are eager to share their knowledge and they’re eager to let you know that they know it!”
Looking at the tech industry specifically, Akpe said she’s always going to push the importance of data because “data tells you the whole story”.
“I would always push women towards more of learning the datasets behind anything that they’re trying to build, get information on it and, if you don’t have it, let’s talk with partnership organisations to see what information they may have. And if they still don’t have it, this is where you come in to build a solution that incorporates some of that.”
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