Celebrating Women EdTech Leaders: Empowering the Future on Women's Day

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Published on:
August 8, 2023

In celebration of Women's Day, we dive into the world of Education Technology (EdTech) leadership through the voices of the women in the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship Program. We have taken a moment to uncover insights from these trailblazing figures, exploring their journeys, inspirations, and contributions; illuminating their remarkable achievements in the industry.

Alison van Staden | Curriculum Developer and Teacher Support, Code4Kids

Alix du Toit | Chief Product Officer, Reflective Learning

Caro Pienaar | Head of Academics, Resolute Education

Hanneke Mackie | Founder and Managing Director, BuzzKidz

Lea-Anne Moses | Executive Director, Fundza Literacy Trust

Omphile Kgwathe | Senior Project Manager - Services and Innovation, Digify Africa

Theresa Michael | CEO and Co-Founder, Afrika Tikkun Bambanani

Why do you think it’s important that more women are represented in EdTech leadership roles?

Alix: Women should be represented equitably in every sector to ensure that diverse perspectives are heard. Creating more opportunities for women in EdTech will open the doors for women and girls to strive for a seat at the table. Representation within the conversation matters.

Hanneke: EdTech currently feels like a boys’ club. It is important that technology continues to be a place where women feel welcome and girls are encouraged to follow subject- and career options within it. Without a female perspective in these spaces, EdTech will continue to develop around male needs and interests, and as a result, less girls will be drawn to it.

Lea-Anne: Promoting gender diversity and ensuring more women are represented in EdTech leadership roles is not only a matter of equity, but also crucial for driving meaningful change within the sector. As someone who has navigated the technology and education landscape, I am acutely aware of the challenges women of colour face to break into this industry. By empowering and providing all women with opportunities to excel, we can drive transformative change, advance innovation, and create a more equitable and sustainable future for education.

Omphile: As a woman and a black person, I believe in the power of representation. We must participate in the industry so that black girls can aspire to work within EdTech. At Digify, over 80% of the team are black women, and it's empowering!

How do you think EdTech can make a substantial impact in advancing gender equality and empowering women?

Alix: When I was young and had decided I wanted to study engineering, I was told it wasn’t the right space for me. EdTech provides an opportunity to rectify this narrative. It creates a space for young people to learn about equality. It allows people in remote areas to be exposed to opportunities that they may have previously been told were ‘not for them’. EdTech also allows us to ensure that everyone, no matter their context or socioeconomic status, is afforded access to sound education and instruction. Providing education through technology means that every person can have the foundations that they need to pursue the career that will best serve them.

Caro: EdTech can make a substantial impact in advancing gender equality and empowering women by creating inclusive learning environments that value and recognise women's talents and contributions beyond appearances and personal backgrounds. It should provide equal opportunities for skill development, foster diverse perspectives, and challenge stereotypes. By promoting a supportive and accessible educational landscape, EdTech can empower women to thrive and excel in tech-related fields, closing the gender gap and driving positive change.

Hanneke: It is our responsibility as women who are already within the EdTech space to open doors for those who wish to enter the profession.

Theresa: EdTech extends the reach of high-quality education resources to remote and underserved areas. By providing accessible digital learning materials, more children have access to education, setting them up for lifelong learning. EdTech content can be designed to challenge traditional gender stereotypes by presenting diverse and inclusive role models and narratives. EdTech can also offer online courses and skill development programs tailored to the needs of women, including mothers and caregivers. Equipping women with relevant skills allows them to contribute to their family's economic well-being and participate more actively in the workforce. EdTech platforms foster virtual communities and support networks for students, parents, and educators, providing a space for women to exchange knowledge and find support in navigating challenges.

Which processes have you implemented to ensure that your EdTech solutions are designed with a focus on inclusivity in order to effectively tackle the unique challenges experienced by girls and women in education?

Alix: At Reflective Learning, our product focuses heavily on representation. We ensure that all examples within the content highlight women of colour doing things successfully. We work with schools that prioritise fair representation and equality of access. Our teacher training emphasises everyone's capability, regardless of gender, and highlights the importance of conveying this message to women and girls.

Lea-Anne: At Fundza, we’ve implemented several initiatives to tackle the specific barriers women and girls face in education. We continuously engage with them by regularly checking in, actively listening to their concerns, and celebrating their victories. This helps us gain valuable insights into their needs and aspirations, ensuring our solutions are tailored to their specific challenges. We give voice to girls and young women through our blog, "Girl Talk", a safe space and platform for them to express themselves freely. By amplifying their stories and perspectives, we enable them to share their stories and foster a supportive community.

Theresa: At Afrika Tikkun Bambanani, we have placed a strong emphasis on designing our EdTech solutions with a focus on inclusivity. Here are the some of the processes we have implemented:

  1. Inclusive Content: We strive to showcase diverse role models and narratives that challenge traditional gender norms and encourage children to explore a wide range of interests.
  2. Diverse Team of Developers: Our team of developers includes female voices who actively contribute to the development of our EdTech solutions.
  3. User Testing and Feedback: We conduct extensive user testing, including feedback sessions with girls and boys of different age groups, to ensure that our EdTech solutions resonate with all learners.

Which challenges have you experienced as a woman in EdTech, and how did you successfully overcome them to accomplish your goals?

Alison: My background is in teaching very young children, so going into teaching with technology has been challenging without having the basic knowledge of coding, robotics and ICT. I’ve overcome these challenges with many hours of self-led education, as well as supportive colleagues. I am still learning every day!

Caro: Instead of recognising my smarts and personality, people would just focus on my appearance, not my capabilities. To tackle these obstacles and reach my goals, I made sure to showcase my skills and knowledge. Another challenge is dealing with the "too emotional" stereotype. No matter your gender, there is always a level of emotion behind the way we work because that’s what makes us human! I embrace empathy as a strength. By standing up for myself, valuing my abilities, and challenging stereotypes, I've carved my path as a woman in EdTech.

Hanneke: While EdTech is traditionally male-dominated, the arts are seen as predominantly female. When I speak about the importance of prioritising creativity and imagination in coding, I’ve noticed that people quickly lose interest. As a woman in the arts space, I’m not taken seriously and it’s challenging to get people to listen and take our interventions seriously. Thankfully, more research is being released that urgently advocates for more creativity and imagination in education. If children do not have these skills, they are likely to have a difficult time thriving in the future.

What advice would you give to aspiring women leaders who strive towards making a lasting impact in whichever environment they find themselves in?

Alison: Persistence is the key to success!

Alix: You need a circle made up of two things: cheerleaders and what I refer to as a ‘red team’. Cheerleaders are those who believe wholeheartedly in everything you strive for. They support your ideas, and allow you to vent when things go awry. A red team does the opposite; they offer critique and look for potential downfalls to challenge you to think critically about your ideas.

Caro: Do not keep trying to collect accolades. Rather, obtain achievements you care about, not what others care about. Achieve by being truly satisfied. Appearances and social media can only satisfy you so much.

Lea-Anne: Don’t be afraid to tap into your feminine energy! We need more creativity, intuition, and empathy in the world to balance the masculine energy that tends to dominate. We can create a more harmonious and fulfilling existence if we embrace the power of both feminine and masculine qualities.

Omphile: Work hard, do your research and uplift all women. If you don't understand something, keep learning and continue to expand your knowledge.

Theresa: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Be authentic and never stop learning. As you make your impact, remember that your contribution can leave a lasting legacy for future generations of women leaders. Seek out mentors who can provide support and guidance.