Empowering Women Does All of Us a Favor

Latinitas Reports from SXSW 2017

One of the most interesting panels that I attended on Saturday was Why Women in Tech Matter, which featured four important proponents of diversity in technology worldwide. While all of the panelists had very engaging stories to tell, I was particularly captivated by the words of Dr. Unoma Okorafor, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women (WAAW) Foundation.

Dr. Okorafor told the story of the path that led her to her current position, starting with her STEM education in Nigeria. She was a top student in her class and enjoyed the subjects, despite the fact that she was the only girl in the STEM classes. The boys in the class were not happy with her and threatened to sexually assault her if she did not stop answering questions correctly in class.

Instead of letting these events discourage her, Dr. Okorafor continued her education in the United States, eventually becoming a leader in tech education for women. “It’s not just about women empowerment, it’s about empowering the next generation of humanity to solve the issues that face us,” she remarked about the type of work that she does.

“We are not doing women a favor, we are doing us a favor.”

When asked by a female audience member how to deal with sexist comments in the workplace, Dr. Okorafor gave a wise and meaningful response:

“Don’t let anger take over. Address the issue calmly, and make people understand that they are being offensive.”

It was both disappointing and inspiring being in a room with many women who have experienced sexism in the tech industry persistently. I hope that with the help of initiatives like EQUALS: The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, more women will be inspired to follow careers in technology and will be treated with the respect every human deserves.

About the Writer
Ilse Garcia Romero is Latinitas’ Public Relations and Community Engagement Intern. She is a Media Studies graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, with a minor in Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. Ilse will be graduating in May 2017, and hopes to continue working in communications after graduation.