For many African-Americans brought up by single mothers, paying for expensive tuition can be hard to crack. For Diana Wilson, however, being the recipient of many scholarships changed the narrative for her and equipped her financially to study and travel.
Some of the organizations she received scholarships from include Coca-Cola, Bill Gates and Echols among others. Her stellar academic performance from High School all through the University paved way for her to get the financial aid that she needed.
When a team from Google took some students from the University of Virginia on a short visit to the company, Diana was one of them. This laid the foundation for her to apply to join the tech giant.
Wilson is passionate about the way the global economic sphere works and through her scholarships, she travelled to 11 countries on 4 continents. Being an African-American, the African continent held a special place with Diana and she began to look more into the challenges that plague African women and restrict them from peaking in their careers.
Now a Googler and the founder of Yielding Accomplished African Women (YAAW), she told me in a virtual interview that African women “are very smart but we need to be more aware of the opportunities and possibilities that exist for us in career fields like tech and finance.”
Yielding Accomplished African Women is a fast-growing career community and online academy that helps African women to build their careers.
More needs to be done to address limiting African cultures
Besides not being exposed early enough to what they can benefit from different career fields, an understanding of how they can get into those fields is not widespread enough. Organizations like She Hacks Africa, YAAW and others are spreading knowledge of how women can get into these fields.
Still, at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, more needs to be done to help women see the ever-widening career field and how they can get in. As someone who enjoyed schooling with scholarships, Diana is sure that more women can find their way into the right careers if they have access to opportunities like the ones she had.
Excursions to companies operating in different fields provide one of the best ways to introduce women to these opportunities in tech and provide guidance on what to do to get started from where they are.
“I do not believe that as a culture, we Africans have been able to properly monitor what we say to and teach women as well as what we continue to push them to do with our words as they grow up. It is a huge issue,” she added.
Cultural bias still pushes the belief that women do not have a place in STEM and this stops many who would otherwise have ventured into the field. In previous editions of Women in Tech, women have shared instances when they were told by others that they were not right for tech just because they are women.
At every level, in the homes, at schools and every other place, there is the need for proper orientation that women are able to take up meaningful careers in tech and every other place and excel at it. Environments that encourage and enable more women in careers have to be deliberately created.
Harassment is a major factor against women getting to the top
Getting to the peak in a career requires access to constant training, resources and other enablers. But access to this training is sometimes at the mercy of the woman succumbing to some form of sexual harassment.
“A lot of people don’t want to talk about abuse. It goes from verbal abuse to physical and sexual abuse and it is very rampant in workplaces and universities,” Diana chipped in.
Referring to the movie, Citation, she continued, “the story of women being sexually abused by superiors is very familiar to many people because it is so common at different levels in the workspace.”
A mix of innovation around company policy and structures are needed to prevent these incidents and nip it in the bud if detected so that the woman can get what she needs without stooping to different lows to get it.
Women shouldn’t have to choose between family and work
Women are natural caregivers in the home and are more family-minded. And this has forced upon them the stereotype that taking care of the family is their primary, if not sole duty. Diana, however, insists that women should not have to choose between family and work.
“We understand that people with disabilities may need certain tools for them to succeed. No one argues that people who use wheelchairs need a ramp. It is an accessibility issue,” she said.
But when it comes to women, for some reason, we don’t want to recognize that they are mostly the caregivers at home and would need different aid and resources to ensure that they are effective in the workforce without becoming less effective at homeDiana Wilson
Attaining the peak of their career without feeling like the family is in a good place takes away the fulfilment for most women. Instead, a wholesome work environment that allows the woman to work and be a mother needs to be embraced more.
For example, creating child daycare or night evening care within the company for mothers with young ones or those who have to work late for any reason should be encouraged. This will lessen the woman’s anxiety and allow her to compete more favourably in the workplace with her other counterparts.
Remote work is gaining more ground and so is the need to put up a ‘respectable’ appearance in the parts where the camera captures one’s profile. What happens though, when a child waltzes into the room where the meeting is taking place or screams from outside, “Mommy, I need to pee?”
While everything possible should be done to create a calm environment for a work from home model, it should not be taboo or a sign of unseriousness if the child finds his/her way into the room where the company’s virtual meeting is happening.
“Women are incredibly smart”, Diana concluded. And they should not have to apologize for working and at the same time managing situations that are peculiar to them because they are women.
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