Bisola Alabi: Tech Savvy
Words By – Temitope Ojo
Bisola Alabi, CEO of Heels and Tech, didn’t study computer science or engineering as a course at the university, but she has carved a career for herself in what is perceived as a male-dominated industry.
She accomplished this by developing a strong interest in building people and technology products.
Her company, Heels, and Tech provides an experiential E-learning platform with real-time instructors, where African women come to learn technical enterprise skills with a 92% increase in career advancement, job retention, and employability skills.
In this interview, Bisola speaks on how she developed her career, why there are fewer women in the industry, mistakes women should avoid in the industry, and solutions to solving them.
You didn’t study computer science or any engineering course at the university. How did you find yourself in the tech industry?
It’s true that I never studied technology or engineering in school. I actually graduated as an Economist from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. After I graduated from the university, I found myself interning in tech companies -job booking sites and hotel booking sites, where I set up departments and managed teams across marketing. These companies were termed startups and were not as mainstream as the banks and consulting companies. This sparked my interest in tech and made me apply to a major multinational tech company called Oracle, where I worked as a CRM Consultant before motherhood called. I had to take out time to be hands-on.
Many women respond to the call of motherhood and never return. How can career mothers achieve work life balance?
I will say, no one can achieve balance especially when it has to do with motherhood. You can only juggle your needs and focus on the most important item. I believe slow growth is better than no growth. Mothers can have a list of items they wish to achieve and work on it slowly. Truly, there are so many odds against women, but ensuring you are focused on one item per time will help you achieve the success you wish.
How did you find Heels and Tech?
After I left the corporate scene, I took some time to raise my kids and tend to my family. In the background, I noticed a lot of women wanted to transition into the tech space but found it difficult. There were so many myths to debunk. The major one back then was that, Tech was majorly coding. I worked in tech all my life and never touched a line of code. There were so many non-coding tech jobs.
Also, as a new mother of toddlers myself, I knew the challenges women faced. So, I thought, why not create a safe space for women where they can acquire technical skills so they could earn more? That was how I founded Heels & Tech. Since technology is now the new oil, for those who wish to transition to tech with the hope of getting a tech job in a developed country, we also train them.
Can you highlight some of the achievements of the training strategy, which your company adopted so far?
I am an advocate of closing the gender gap between women and technology, and I can say we are responsible for the successful transition of over 100 women into the tech industry and are currently training many more. Our students now work in global companies such as Amazon USA, RBC Canada, Accenture, TD Bank, Auvenir, UBA, etc. We have a community of over 30k plus combined, across different channels from 22 countries. Acquiring tech skills has helped our women remain marketable and relevant, and increased their earnings by $8.07m and counting.
The Tech industry appears to be male-dominated, especially in third-world countries like Nigeria. Why is this so and what can be done to get more women in it?
I believe it is so because of a lack of awareness. Many people believe tech is new, which is not true. Tech has been around for the longest time, but back in the day, a woman would rather become a baker and a homemaker, rather than decide to acquire technical skills. All these are not their fault, as the foundation was not properly laid. Think of high schools where the boys are asked to work on technical skills while the girls cook in the labs. All these experiences shape the girl-child and if care is not careful, they begin to make their career decisions there and then. In Africa, it is even worse as the girl-child is meant to be in the kitchen. Lack of mentorship is also a huge problem, if you don’t see people who look like you in a particular space, you won’t aspire to become like them.
Technophobia is also another problem. Women believe technology is difficult, which is not true. Women have done harder things like, pushing a baby out and taking care of toddlers. So, what can be harder than that? Women, just like men, deserve to be given equal growth opportunities to thrive in tech. Whether you are a woman or you are a man, you should be treated fairly. No one should deprive you of a chance to learn the tech skills you love, or do the tech job you like. However, I must say that the gender gap in the tech industry is closing, but not half as quickly as it should. Though most tech roles are handled by men, and they make up a greater number at tech establishments. This is not just a problem in Nigeria, but a global problem. Pinning down what is responsible for the vast gender gap in tech is not so easy, but it has its roots in the misconception that courses like engineering are too difficult for women. And since tech is rooted in engineering, this seems to have affected the way recruiters, trainers, and society saw women who had an interest in tech.
I must say however, that, the discrimination against women interested in tech has been watered down. But, even if there is now less discrimination against women who are interested in technology, there is still work to be done to close the gender gap.
What would be your advice for companies in bridging this gap?
The representation of women in the IT field must be prioritised and actively established. And I’m sure it won’t just happen. One strategy is to firm up the idea that the goal for all new enterprises and projects is equality of opportunity for men and women. Another is to monitor and steadily raise the representation of women in leadership roles.
Tech companies in Nigeria and around Africa should strive towards gender equality. This is crucial in closing the alarming gender gap in technology. Women should also be receptive to opportunities to pick up these tech skills and join communities of other women working in, or considering careers in technology.
Can you share some mistakes women in tech should avoid to help them thrive in this male-dominated industry?
One is not being part of a tech community. There is this quote we love at Heels and Tech, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” Working in a male-dominated industry could mean that you might find it difficult to fit in. Getting support from like-minded women who are thriving in the tech world might boost your morale. There are a lot of benefits you get to derive from joining a female tech community. You could get advice and support from female experts, or you could also find out how to negotiate your salary and balance work with your family and personal life. Also, you can get access to exclusive career opportunities you usually wouldn’t get access to; if you’re looking for other career roles in tech, the list is endless.
Another mistake is being disorganized. When you’re disorganised you displease your employer and the entire team. You even make it look like you don’t have an iota of knowledge of what you’re doing. Not knowing your strength is also another mistake. Your strength may propel you into a state of flow, in which challenge and fascination intersect, and you lose sight of time. Not knowing what your strengths are, can lead you to unnecessarily compare yourself with others and look down on your abilities. A way out is speaking with trusted relatives, friends, and colleagues about their perceptions of your strengths.
The last mistake I want to speak about is not negotiating salary. Many times, women make the mistake of not negotiating their salaries probably because they’ve searched for a job for too long, they’re nonchalant about it, or they’re desperate for job roles. This is why one ought to know one’s worth as a techie, understand your position in the market and go for roles that offer what your needs deserve.
What are some of the challenges faced by women in tech?
They vary and include social-economic issues. Women spend 75 percent of their time on chores, rather than spending it on productive and mentally stimulating things, raising kids and funds to acquire quality education. Another one is the lack of support from their spouses and lack of mentors.
How can they overcome these challenges?
Women need to begin to learn to delegate and not wear themselves out as there is so much important work to do. Also, they need to begin to invest intentionally in their growth and find people who can help them.
In a situation where employers shut out women in the tech space, particularly in leadership roles, how can they gain more recognition?
They should speak up and learn to build strategic alliances such as mentors and sponsors in their organisation.
What would be your advice to a young job seeker out there, in terms of how to prepare him/her to get relevant jobs in a tech industry?
My advice would be first to get mentors you can look up to. Secondly, acquire as many skills, whether on YouTube, online, or in boot camps, such as ours. And then, finally decide the path you want to follow. But the truth is, as a young job seeker, it’s absolutely normal to be confused as a starter, but as time goes on, you will figure out the best place for you.
Who are your icons in your field?
I admire women like the founder of Canva, Melanie Perkins who has built a remarkable application that has influenced millions of people globally, and whose continuous innovation has inspired me greatly to do more.
In what ways has being a player in a male dominated industry changed you?
It has helped me dream bigger.
What does style mean to you?
My style is simple and comfortable. You will either find me in a t-shirt and a pair of Jeans and also, a long flowy gown.
What would you not be caught wearing?
Extremely tight clothings that reveal my tummy. I’m sure mothers like me can relate.
What items would one find in your handbag pertime?
My card, token, car key, perfume, lipgloss and moisturiser.