Inspirational stories about gender-inclusive making

Bezawork Tilahun Mindaye
Bahir Dar Institute of Technology, Ethiopia

Bezawork has been a lecturer at the Bahir Dar Institute of Technology for the last five years. She also coordinates two makerspace: the Business Incubation and Techno Entrepreneurship Center-Bitec and the makerspace of Bahir Dar American Corner. She participates in different women empowering programs, is a Google’s Women Techmakers Ambassador and volunteer teacher. She holds a Master’s degree in Software Engineering from Bahir Dar University.

“I want to empower women to believe in themselves that they can be engineers and leaders and entrepreneurs. Everything is possible, it doesn’t matter which gender you have.”

Working as a woman in tech in Ethiopia means being confronted with many barriers.

“In Ethiopia girls are not appreciated to study technology and engineering, they are rather forced to join social studies”, she says. 

And if girls get good grades in STEM subjects others would assume that this is due to affirmative actions of the Ethiopian government rather than to the girls skills and talents.

In her work, when Bezawork manages her male team members, some of them would not follow, as their cultural background makes it difficult for them to accept a female superior. Sexual harrasment and unapropriate behaviours also show up from some male colleauges.

“I will automatically reject lots of job offers, because they come with breaking your privacy, your dignity. Because I have full confidence I can earn the opportunity with my skills and efforts. This is very challenging in the workplace and in the education sector.”

Being acknowledged and valued by  some managers is another major barrier that Bezawork experiences. Some superiors would feel challenged and threatened by a fascinating and bold woman around and therefore neglect her opinion and creativity. They would either blame her for a project’s failure or claim it as their own when it is successful. Sometimes work colleagues discriminate against a woman and work as a “boy’s club” keeping everything secret or hiding information, due to their insecurity of being outsmarted by a woman.

To fight against these barriers, Bezawork works as a volunteer teacher in the STEM center of high schools, to shift the traditional cultural mindset. Following the Chinese saying: “Don’t give someone a fish, but teach them how to catch-it.” she wants to equip girls with both hard – and soft skills they need to follow a technical career. She brings other successful women to speak alongside her to young women and become important role models. She provides mentoring to young women and encourages girls in her university class to actively engage. She also stresses the importance of inclusiveness and equal treatment of women as part of all policies, strategies and working guidelines at an organizational level.

“All these barriers motivate me a lot because I understand that I am competent and I feel more success is awaiting me. So I don’t get distracted, instead I learn from those little things which I believe are traps of my comfort zone”, she adds.

She is also grateful for her supportive, collaborative and uplifting  male co-workers and superior:

“I wish we had more of these men because we could solve many global problems together.”

Message to her younger self:

“I would tell her to use any opportunity she has and to smartly use her time, as time management is so critical. I would suggest her to go out and explore the world and be a global citizen. The more she explores and discovers herself in working with international people, the more experience and power she will have to use her potential.  And I will tell her to never give up and never have the shadow of “I am not good enough for this““.