Back in Cambridge, having signed off my acceptance emails to the new members of the entrepreneurship course as Georgia Ware, Project Director, I was always met with the reply ‘Dear Mr Georgia.’ From a culture unaware of the common names of the UK, the assumption was always that, as Project Director, I was a man, regardless of the sex of the respondee. And from this point I started to question; what is the view of female leaders in Africa? And how aligned are the gender struggles we face within our separate nations?
Last week we ran a women’s confidence workshop one afternoon after the DAREnterprisers course. It sparked some of the females on our course to say that they wanted to improve their confidence levels. We ran it for 15 women, some of our students but predominantly the female nurses who joined us from the health project. Together, as a group of women we discussed what our goals were for the workshop and which female leaders we aspired to.
One line among the students was frequently repeated. ‘Not just as a woman but as an African woman’. It was clear the difference needed to be distinguished, highlighting to me the difference and prejudice levels that these women still felt. This idea that white women can and do go further within society still pervades.
In preparation for the workshop I had looked up forbes ten most powerful women, and having always considered myself a feminist but never having put too much thought or attention to the women’s campaign, I was shocked by the state of the situation. I’ve lived the last few years in Cambridge where female masters are a common and there are equal numbers of women at the university and within student run societies. As such I have become comfortable with the idea that the world is getting fairer. However from my research, out of the ten most powerful women, three were made famous because of their husbands (Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, Melinda Gates) and scrolling back through the list it seemed too often that women were either Vice President (second in command to a man), in the entertainment industry (Beyonce, Oprah) or CEO of a ‘women’s product’ like Spanx. It was only the examples of Angela Merkel, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and IMF head Christine Lagarde that kept me going.
For me, promoting female entrepreneurship is a fantastic way of getting more female leaders in the future. This is why I was so bitterly disappointed on our induction day. Despite a very successful launch of our course I looked around to see only two females in the room. Unfortunately, this was somewhat representative of the women who applied. Seeing it on a spreadsheet back in Cambridge is never quite illustrative of what you see in person and I had regretted not somehow pushing this campaign further. In our last minute recruitment in the week that followed, we failed to increase these numbers much further. I began to realise that it wasn’t a problem of DAREnterprisers but an epidemic across Tanzania, Africa and even more globally. Women are not seen as entrepreneurs.
Looking around me in the leading incubator in the country, Dar Teknohama Business Incubator, the situation was the same if not worse. Having studied Engineering and being a member of the University Officer Training Corps, a male dominated environment is the norm for Mr Georgia. But for most women this visually poor representation of the sexes is yet another barrier in the struggles of entrepreneurs.
In both of our cultures, Leadership and Entrepreneurship are still terms synonymous with masculinity. And, although the students on our DAREnterprisers course are respectful to me as a leader, if not somewhat surprised when I join their football games, there is still an image from both sexes that masculinity is a trait held by leaders and entrepreneurs. As President Obama said a few days ago speaking at the Entrepreneurship Conference in Nairobi, “if half of your team is not playing, you’ve got a problem. In too many countries, half of the team — our women and girls — are not participating enough in this.” By doubling the competition, and doubling the entrepreneurs, we can only improve the situation in a manner that is beneficial for everyone.
Perhaps future generations of CDI volunteers will have to testify whether the responses might one day come back ‘Dear Miss William’ or ‘Dear Miss David.’
Georgia Ware, Entrepreneurship Project Director