Tech Women Zimbabwe (TWZ) officially launched ‘HerCode Fellowship Programme’ (HFP) at an event held earlier this week at the Zimbabwe Institute of Engineers.
The launch was part of activities involving a delegation of scientists from Silicon Valley, who are on a one week tour of TWZ’s projects. Also present at the launch were, TWZ fellows as well as several students and professionals in the Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
Aizoo Maiot, Programme Director for Tech Women at the Institute of International Education (IIE) officially launched HFP on behalf of co-founders of TWZ, Aretha Mare and Rumbidzai Mlambo who formed TWZ in 2013, a year after they had completed their TechWomen Fellowship Programme in USA.
Giving a brief of the programme, TWZ Fellow Bertha Ndlovu stated that through HFP they aim to train more than 700 women.
“We are going to be teaching these women to code for change, as they will be working towards providing digital solutions for day to day problems,” said Ndlovu.
She also explained that the programme will run under a ‘train the trainer’ model, where 30 women will first get training to enable them to teach other women how to code. Selected participants will go through advanced training, which will see them learning new skills that will allow them to grow their existing projects or start new ones.
As part of the launch, TWZ facilitated a discussion which was led by Erin Keeley who is the Global Director of Engineering at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST), Zhilan Zweiger, Senior Reliability Engineer at Twitter, Farai Mavhiya; Associate Director at Arup Zimbabwe and Betty Nhachi from BN Environmental Consultancy.
“We love solving problems”
Since the whole panel comprised of engineers, they shared how they got into the profession and what they think about STEM professions.
For Erin Marie Keeley, engineering seems to be an inborn talent.
“Growing up, I loved solving problems and I think that is why I love engineering because it solves problems,” said Keeley.
Farai Mavhiya agreed with Keeley that passion for the profession starts at an early stage.
“My father helped me grow an interest in doing things with tangible results and one of the things I loved solving were mathematical problems,” explained Mavhiya.
All panelists concurred that passion played a major role in the growth and development of their careers.
A major concern raised during the discussion was the number of women who drop out of the STEM field before they reach the peak in their careers.
Betty Nhachi, stated that marriage and societal expectations are some of the contributing factors to women abandoning their careers midway.
“We have been trying to have as many women as possible working on our South Kariba project, but most of them leave as soon as they get married because their husbands are not based in Kariba,” she argued.
Labour laws and policies were also blamed for the situation as some argued that there is need to increase maternity leave from three months to between ten to twelve months. Men were also encouraged to advocate for paternity leave. It was also argued that Zimbabwe should promote a culture of working from home so that parents will not have to choose between staying at home and and being at work.
Zhilan Zweiger ,mentioned that there was a tendency to undermine women who venture into STEM.
“I have always gone for interviews in heels, but I have made sure to shock my interviewers who always admit at the end that they underestimated me,” said Zweiger.
Zweiger added that she noticed that women’s ability to excel has been judged based on how they dress but she has lived to prove that should and is not the case.
Although the discussion started by addressing societal challenges that women face, testimonies from some TWZ fellows showed that economic challenges affect girls from an early age.
A dream come true
Helena Mangwiro, a TWZ fellow shared an emotional story on how joining TWZ had brought back hopes of achieving a dream she had shelved.
“Today’s tour by TechWomen was a reminder of how these women (Aretha Mare and Rumbidzai Mlambo) had given me another chance to become an IT specialist,” said a teary Mangwiro.
“I failed to continue with university a year after I had enrolled, and I thought I would never be able to be a computer programmer,” she explained.
Mangwiro lost her mother when she was in Form two and was put under the care of a foster parent who also had four children of her own to cater for. Besides acquiring news skills, Mangwiro mentioned that TWZ has motivated her to think of helping other disadvantaged girls achieve their academic and professional dreams.
Since 2012, TWZ has been assisting many girls with an interest or qualification in STEM subjects to understand more about the field and learn new skills.
Many girls have benefited from TWZ’s projects that include an innovation hub called Pamusha Technology Village in Mbare a high density suburb in Harare. Tawungana Expo and Technovation Challenge are some of TZW’s activities that have been beneficial to Zimbabwean girls aspiring to excel in the field of STEM.
TWZ is considered the Zimbabwean version of TechWomen USA which is an initiative by U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
All images by Daphne Jena