A word with Donna Rege – Chairperson – Safaricom Women in Tech as we celebrate International Day for Women and Girls.
Donna Rege’s venture into the world of technology begun when her uncle from abroad visited home, bringing along gadgets that captivated her youthful curiosity. Initially aspiring to follow in her best friend’s parents footsteps and pursue a career in medicine, her focus shifted into the world of technology. She went ahead and shifted her focus on sciences in her high school, in the hope of pursuing an engineering career.
Pursuing her new found passion, Donna enrolled in Kenyatta University where she pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in telecommunications and information technology. Notably, the career was male dominated as she recalls five females among a cohort of 70 men. Despite the challenges, her determination and perseverance saw her ultimately emerging as one of the three girls graduating in 2010.
Securing her position at Safaricom, she contributed her skills in support engineering and served for four years. Her passion in tech was transformed when she identified opportunities in integrating technology with business. This was coincided with the surge of digital transformation at a time when Safaricom was seeking to expand its business operations. Her professional journey led her to leading teams in Masoko and DigiFarm, platforms that still boast excellence of her leadership to date. Donna later shifted her focus back to the tech domain where she assumed a leadership role in the IT Governance role.
What does it take to be in your line of work and in your position in terms of education, special interests and work ethic?
As she thinks back in her journey, Donna attributes her achievements in her professional journey to the early cultivation of her interest in tech. According to her, the key elements that contributed to her success in navigating a male-dominated career are primarily discipline, resilience, patience, embracing courage and staying agile to adapt to evolving trends. These qualities, coupled with her initial talent, have played a pivotal role in shaping her successful career.
“The agility to learn and relearn the things as they evolve is crucial in this industry. The curiosity to understand how things work and be innovative when tackling challenges to create a solution has always been my drive. My journey has led me to inspire others as I engage in training young girls as early as 6 years of age. I believe that nurturing talent from the initial stages of life is key in retaining the passion and creating a voice for the women in the tech space, regardless of the field they choose to practice”.
What is your typical day like at work?
On an ordinary Monday, Donna has learned to let the day unfold organically, with just a pen and paper to keep her updated on tasks she has to complete. The nature of her meetings and emails she receives on Mondays essentially sets the tone to the kind of week she will have. She takes a note on the significance of engaging with fellow women in STEM as she makes up time regularly to engage with them.
How do you see technology evolving at Safaricom? And what measures are being taken to ensure that women are well represented in emerging areas of Technology.
Safaricom has made significant progress in transforming into a purpose led technology company and are currently approaching the final stages of this developments. We have embraced growth in new sectors including digital transformation, IOT and AI. Emerging tech/sectors have a focus on Tech for good hence intentionally leans on infusion of gender balance to ensure wholesome impact on the community through our products, services and solutions. Maintaining a commitment to gender diversity within the company, Safaricom is actively recruiting leaders in the effort of creating awareness in the impact of women in leadership, particularly in STEM.
The tech space is advancing progressively towards inclusivity and currently on a positive trajectory. Over the decade, the percentage of ladies in leadership within Safaricom has gone up by 28%. The future is certainly promising for women in STEM.
Are there any specific strategies that Safaricom has implemented to attract and retain top female talent in technology?
The organization has stayed committed to ensuring gender diversity among the staff by ensuring that even in the unfortunate event of losing a female staff, the opportunity is prioritized to fellow women. Furthermore, the succession plans emphasizes of women replacing women to maintain the balance, particularly in key roles.
It is also committed to making Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) part of its mission and this comes right from the top. The CEO is working to ensuring 40% women representation and the CTIO is committed to ensuring that 15% of new hires are women.
In the workplace, the organization has provided amenities that support women, even in the workplace. Providing a 4 months maternity program, nursing areas, kid’s play area and the convenience of an in-house nanny has fostered an environment that accommodates the diverse needs of women in the workforce. This again is attributed by women being leaders and being involved in the decision making processes.
As we celebrate International Day for Women and Girls, do you have any examples of standout women-led projects or innovations within Safaricom technology division?
A remarkable achievement I can highlight was the invention of IOT sector where groundbreaking solution was devised in the aim of tracking climate change data. Beyond that, our Technovation program which poses high school students with competitions for prizes has also showcased incredible capabilities with competition levels qualifying the students to the Silicon Valley. These remarkable solutions by young girls prove that the future is bright.
For instance, we have an invention by a remarkable lady within the IoT space of a solution that is targeted towards combating climate change through tracking our afforestation and reafforestation initiatives as a country.
In your opinion, what role does mentorship play in promoting women participation and leadership in the technology field at Safaricom?
Mentorship acts as a guiding force, especially to those who are on the onset of their career journey. It plays the role of providing comprehensive guidance to the mentees as they receive support in terms of ready network. Mentors also serve the purpose of being the voice of their mentees and constantly seek new opportunities where their mentees can showcase their capabilities. It is therefore important for those seeking individual and personal growth.
What would you say to girls who would like to venture into the technology field are afraid or intimidated?
Your initial passion should be your driving force. Though challenges and stereotypes may seem bigger than you, do not hold back. STEM is ready for your fresh perspective and skills and as a woman, we are wired to face challenges and solve them innovatively.