Are there any Women In Tech networks in universities in Zambia? Well, ZCAS has one! Founded by Mutembo Kababa, I just had to chat with her about Women In Tech ZCASU. Read on…
What inspired you to start the women in tech network at your university and what challenges have you faced in the process?
My journey in tech had actually started as a result of the pandemic. I was a civil engineering student at a university abroad, and since I could not travel back, I chose to get into tech. I had little to no reference point on why, but I knew I wanted to do something different. One thing that I noticed was that I had a tough time finding a community to lean on. So I figured, why not start one and go from there?
Can you tell us a particularly successful event or initiative that your network has organized to support women in tech?
We are a very new initiative (less than a month old), but we have been pushing for more female students to be proactive in the happenings in the tech sphere. As a school, we recently celebrated earning awards for the Hakainde Hichilema Innovation Fund (HHIF), where we have three of the five innovations awarded team-led by female students. Encouraging female students’ participation in projects such as these will hopefully lead to more successful events.
How do you measure the impact of your network on its members and the broader community?
To be honest, we are figuring this out as we go. One thing I will note, though, is that I am always learning and open to constructive criticism knowing that it will steer this initiative upward and outwards.
What steps do you take to ensure that your network is inclusive and accessible to women from diverse backgrounds?
We are working on building a sense of ownership, taking a “For Women, By Women” approach. In terms of inclusivity, we do not want to limit ‘membership’ per se to female students in the School of Computing; we would also want to welcome students from other Schools that are interested in tech as well. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and we would like to foster an environment that embodies that. In terms of accessibility, we want to be as reachable and as courteous as possible – one of the ways we have done this is on signup; we make the process as simple as possible.
How do you collaborate with other organizations and initiatives to support women in tech beyond your university? What kind of collaboration are you looking for?
We are still looking to collaborate with other organizations and initiatives that support women in tech beyond our university. We would love to be able to sit in on industry-related discussions, take part in expos, and be a part of events that foster network growth, to name a few.
What advice would you give to women who are interested in pursuing careers in tech but may face systemic barriers?
Don’t let that stop your pursuit. There is room for you. I appreciate the visibility of women in the tech industry, “If she can do it, so can I.” Last year, I attended the first FinTech Expo in September, and I saw women passionate about their jobs in cybersecurity, cloud computing, mobile computing, and so much more. To see so many women in their element is inspiring. Events like the expos TechTrends and ICTAZ, to name a few, are actually great for meeting people, asking them questions, and learning and trying out technologies. It definitely helped me figure out what to steer my studies towards.
How does your network work to address the gender gap in tech and promote diversity and inclusion within the field?
Talking about it and acting on it. I start with where I am. As much as our university tracks are individual, it is a journey nonetheless, one that would be much more fun when travelling in a group. If I see my fellow student struggling academically, for example, I try to meet them where they are to help them move up. With social media, it’s amazing what visibility can do. Being able to see women in different sectors of
technology and possibly be able to connect with them has definitely made it easier to sing the song of diversity and inclusion.
Can you share any upcoming projects or initiatives that your network is working on to support women in tech?
Right now, we are getting closer to tests (mid-semester), and we are looking to host niche pop-up study sessions in case anybody may need them. We also hope to host someone from the industry to talk on their career journey and hopefully answer a few questions students may have. And before the semester closes out, we would like to end with an activity or activities to destress, like a Games Day. For something like this, we will most likely partner with another on-campus association called the ZCAS-Media and Information Technology Club (ZCAS-MIT) for a chance to mix with other students as well.
How do you balance running a women in tech network with your other responsibilities as a founder and student?
There’s a saying I heard a while back, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I cannot credit the growth of WIn Tech without the support of my team. Currently, we have Madalitso, a first-year CompSci student, as Director and Mwinji, a third-year Computing with Business student, as Director of Operations. We’re still looking to grow our team. I am one person who likes to be hands-on. I am a second-year Computer Science student, President of the ICTAZ Student Chapter on campus, and founder of Women in Technology (WIn Tech) at ZCAS University. That’s an overwhelming amount of responsibility. I enjoy serving, and I enjoy being able to help people where I can. I recognize that I cannot (and should not) do everything alone. It’s all a joint effort; being able to lean on my teams for support and ideas, branch out into smaller study groups and discussions to keep up with my studies, and help students know that all they have to do is reach out makes it all possible. Also, I am learning when to say nowhere necessary for the sake of my mental health, which is just as important.
Looking towards the future, what are your long-term goals for your network, and how do you plan to achieve them?
The big dream is to leave this initiative established and running for as long as the institution offers computing and technology programs. We want supported female students to keep supporting female students, semester after semester, year after year. I guess the best question we should ask ourselves as we go is, ‘What can I do to leave this better than I found it?’
For more details, follow WIn Tech ZCASU here.