“Bring about the change you want to see in the community.”

That was one of the animated discussions happening at the second WomenTechConnect@AfPIF2019 in Mauritius last week.  It was complemented by a great analogy of bringing your own chair if there is no seat for you at the table.

The discussion was part of a working lunch which was packed to capacity, and included a panel discussion chaired by hosts and co-sponsors Workonline Communications and The London Internet Exchange (LINX).  The WomenTechConnect initiative was founded only last year by Workonline Communications and has become a sought-after event on the calendar.  The initiative aims to promote positive change for women in the ICT workplace by connecting likeminded women and men and giving them a platform to share their experiences.

The panel discussion, chaired by Workonline senior network engineer Michelle Opiyo, featured conversations with Joyce Dogniez, vice-president community development and engagement at ISOC,  Esther Cobbinah, network engineer at LINX, Mark Tinka, head of engineering, Seacom, Esther King, ISOC WomenInTech fellow, and Caglar Dabanoglu, senior network architect at Akamai.

The point was raised by the male representatives on the panel that they were often unaware whether there were issues or barriers that women may be experiencing.  They encouraged women to speak up and seek support, and to seek ways of creating an environment that is open and engaging between genders.

“It’s heartening to hear the empowerment around the table and in the discussions,” commented Esther Cobbinah from LINX. “In general, the community looks to be taking responsibility for change.   If women want to be treated as equals to their male counterparts, then they can’t also expect to have special treatment because they are women.“

One organisation, Teraco Data Environments, pointed out how far the industry has come, citing their own senior management as a great example where more than half of the team are women.

The theme of support was also emphasised. Benjamin Deveaux, head of business development at Workonline Communications, commented: “Having a mentor, male or female, is a powerful tool to find support in the workplace, and it’s important that those who are already established in their careers take the time to support new industry entrants and share their experiences.”

WomenTechConnect formed part of this year’s 10th African Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) held over a 3-day period from 20-22 August 2019 in Balaclava, Mauritius. e-height:150