Joyce Agbanobi: My company has helped over 4,000 women transition into tech | The Guardian Nigeria News
Technology is one of the key drivers of women’s economic empowerment, although the fields in which women work are still gender-segregated. Joyce Agbanobi and her team are trying to solve this problem through their Black Women Paving Ways initiative.
Joyce is an enthusiastic tech executive who is passionate and dedicated to closing the gender gap for women of color in tech. She is Technical Program Manager Lead at Microsoft with over 7 years of experience in eCommerce sectors. She is also co-founder of Black Woman Paving Ways, a platform that aims to close the digital divide and increase the participation of women in STEM by building initiatives to help women educate themselves for the future , and brings newbies together with their dream mentors at various Fortune 500 companies.
She founded BWPW with her graduate school friends Lola Quadri and Omotoyosi Ogunbanwo, who are also in the tech sector. Since November 2020, when the initiative was launched, it has helped more than 4,000 women find their unique paths in technology, gain skills for the future, be matched with tech experts and land their dream jobs. With the huge layoffs in tech, her company’s goal for this year is not only to bring women into tech, but to ensure they are uniquely skilled and essential in their roles.
To achieve this and to commemorate Black History Month, BWPW will host a free two-week Data Analytics hands-on training for women transitioning into tech, those in non-tech roles and those starting their businesses own, but aren’t exactly sure how to make sense of their data. The training is open to men and women.
In this interview with ESTHER IJEWERE, Joyce shares her inspirational story and how her company is committed to supporting women’s transition into different parts of the technology industry.
I remember growing up as the only girl in a family of six (including my parents). Since my father was a mechanical engineer working in the oil and gas industry, all he knew and wanted was for all of his children to be engineers, doctors, or a big disappointment. I didn’t grow up with the ability to choose what I really wanted; My father and my late grandfather (who was also a professor of engineering) chose me to become a psychiatrist. So I have a BSc in Psychology.
I remember my father saying when he was in school, in an engineering class of 50 students, they only had about 10 girls and last year they were down to 2 girls while the other less technical courses dropped out. As a result, he constantly trained my brothers and I the same way; always being brave, never afraid to be the only one and never stopping pushing even when it’s hard. My parents never saw my gender as a barrier to success, so I never saw it as a problem.
I’ve come so far in my career and grown so fast because I inherited some great qualities (courage, confidence and a thirst for knowledge) from my parents and brothers. Who knew I would be the only girl or black girl in the room all the time?
Inspiration behind black women leading the way
Women are one of the most innovative creatures out there, but being the only woman of color in the room all the time was confusing for me, so I decided to really understand why and how that can change, instead of constantly complaining. Based on my research, I found that there is a large gender gap due to a few key issues: lack of technical skills for the future, awareness, representation and support at all levels.
So in 2020 during COVID-19 I started sharing knowledge on LinkedIn, IG, Clubhouse and had some technology series on friend’s YouTube channel – “How to break into the technology” with some technical training. I’ve also mentored women for free but got overwhelmed after a while and knew I couldn’t do it on my own. So I teamed up with my friends from grad school who were also passionate about increasing the proportion of women in the room. This is how BWPW was born!
The trip so far
I have to say it was nothing short of amazing, but also very tiring, time and staff consuming, but refreshing because we were able to train, mentor and guide over 4,000 women around the world in transitioning into different technological directions to help. But we’re still hardly scratching the surface with over 3 billion women in the world; We still have a lot planned ahead and for 2023, watch space.
My role as Technical Program Manager Lead at Microsoft and how my work experiences at Jumia and Amazon prepared me for this role
As a TPM, I lead the analytics and process automation initiative for Hyperscale Network Connectivity on Azure. My strong analytical skills and PM experience at the two e-commerce giants made me unique for my current role in cloud networking.
challenges in my industry
I think my challenges are similar to many other women in this field, but I can say that the biggest challenge for me as a young woman of color and an immigrant with an accent is managing technical projects in a room with white men that are mostly double the height like my age I have to constantly prove myself, which doesn’t bother me personally as I’m used to it by now, but it’s a challenge.
Our free 2-week BWPW intensive introductory data analysis training course for women
In the current climate of mass layoffs in tech, and as artificial intelligence continues to reign supreme, we want to ensure our women are constantly upskilling to become the disruptors, not the disruptors. Low-skilled jobs are the easiest to automate, so they need to stay up to date with the latest technology and continually learn new skills to stay relevant.
Whether you’re a business owner, a product manager, or looking to break into the AI field, a solid knowledge of data analysis is very important. Therefore, BWPW works with some seniors. Data engineers at Amazon, Google and Samsung are hosting a two-week free master class to train women in advanced Excel, SQL, Python and Tableau with an opportunity to solve a real-world business problem through a hands-on project.
Other projects and activities
We have several products in the works but our latest is: A platform to democratize mentorship for women of color around the world with a launch in 5 countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Canada and the US) so we’re looking forward to that This one.
What I enjoy most about my job
Critical thinking and ability to solve problems. For me, every problem is an opportunity to shine and learn something new.
Three women who inspire me and why
Bozoma Saint John – CMO, Netflix
Shelley Zalis – Founder, Female Quotient
Annie Jean-Baptiste – Director, Product Inclusion & Equity @ Google
These women inspire me to do more every day. They decided not to conform to the norm, but to push themselves to constantly create solid tables in their respective space rather than waiting to be invited to one. Their ongoing journey of championing women in business is very admirable and I hope with them for a brighter future with more women in it. I believe together we can all make this change!
What better ways can we as a society do to support women who want to enter the tech industry
Support: Today, women make up up to 47 percent of all employed adults in the United States, yet only 18 percent of women earn computer science degrees, according to Computerscience.org. This simply means that women cannot do this on their own; We need more male support to close the gender gap.
Hire women: Diversity fuels innovation, and according to ongoing research from McKinsey, mixed teams have been found to financially outperform non-mixed teams by up to 25 percent purely on gender diversity. Partner with platforms like BWPW to fill these roles.
Mentoring and promoting women: Again, it pays to connect with women, support their female teammates, and help them climb the career ladder. It’s difficult to gain a foothold when your peers don’t look like you or don’t relate to your challenges. Be sure to give the same benefit of doubt that you give to men.
Encourage women to pursue STEM: The STEM field can seem intimidating as it is heavily male dominated. It is therefore important that we become the bridge for young women and encourage them to pursue these areas.
Supporting Families: Approximately 70 percent of adult women become mothers, so it’s important for companies to offer good benefits that include parent-centric incentives, as having a child is a huge life-changing experience.
One thing I want to change in the tech sector
The technology field is ever-changing, and companies should offer everyone space to learn and grow, whether you’re an after-school intern or an executive. We need to empower people to feel empowered by technology, not intimidated by it.
To be a woman of rubies
To be honest, being exceptional to me means caring less about perfectionism and approval from everyone and more about choosing to be exceptional on my own terms. Embracing my uniqueness, acknowledging my struggles, following my path, believing in myself and making sure I don’t lose my identity makes me an extraordinary woman
How we reflect the #Embraceequity 2023 theme of International Women’s Day in BWPW
-Lead the Black Minority Student Program (BMSD) at Microsoft: creating technical workshops on education, bridging the digital divide and introducing high school students to technology
– recruitment of women
– Provision of mentoring for women in the company