Getting to know more about women who are passionate about their jobs and are excelling in their chosen fields can be both exciting and gratifying. Even though the technology space is largely dominated by men worldwide, it is pleasing to know that some women are breaking the narrative (or the jinx, rather?), and are taking the industry by storm in various ways.
Here in Ghana, the story has not been different from the global situation as men dominate the tech space. So we ask; is there room for women and girls to venture and thrive in careers in science and technology?
The conversation gets even more exciting as we focus on the tech space in Ghana and speak to one of our industrious women in technology as we mark International Women’s Day.
We engage Lady-Omega Hammond, CEO of Ampersand Technologies Ltd, a software development company which solves problems using technology.
Without killing the excitement, let’s head straight to our chat with this woman whom we have discovered is strong and so much more (a goldmine of knowledge and focus).
Seekapor: We know you have been trained in a field of science and are currently working in IT, but before we proceed, can you tell us a bit more about yourself ?
Lady O: My name is Lady-Omega Hammond; I’m the CEO of Ampersand Technologies Ltd, a software development company solving problems using technology. As a young girl I wanted to be a doctor so I could fix bodies when they were “spoilt”, this was after my aunty passed away from getting cancer. I therefore studied Science in Achimota School but the complexity of biology scared that dream away and got me applying for Geomatic Engineering in KNUST. This course had to do more with the study of spatial data, in air, land and water. In Ghana, the career path from the course focused on land surveying, I was intrigued that I could do so much with data but opportunities/careers that had to do with computers and technology required me to go outside the country to study more.
It was in my final year, I began to reflect on what the future held for me, I didn’t want to have a normal job. Growing up you will find me attending courses at IPMC, NIIT and at home trying to figure out how to perform a function or learning about an application online. I completed university wanting a job I would not be bored of, which will keep me wanting to learn and grow. I had always wanted to start a business too coming from a family of entrepreneurs, but I didn’t know how and where to start. I got the opportunity to apply to Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), where I turned my hobby into a job, I was curious to learn and see what I could make of myself.
2 years after I completed MEST, I started a software development company, Ampersand Technologies Ltd (www.ampersandllc.co) with 3 guys, Andrew Barnes, Joel Armah and Godwin Abenbire Abene. Bringing together our strengths based on the skills we were taught in Business, Communication and Technology, we see ourselves as problem solvers building robust software solutions for individuals and businesses. At Ampersand we believe in starting small, working fast, thinking big. I believe in not being comfortable with your current status, read wide and don’t give up. When life presents you with challenges, face it confidently with a smile. You are what you think and say.
Seekapor: There are lots of other careers you could have pursued, what inspired you to pursue IT?
Lady O: In joining Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, I told myself I was going to give it my best shot, if that didn’t work I could always find something else to do because I was young. My parents were supportive and they wanted me to live out my dreams. Little did I know that when you’re put in an environment that taught you how to learn, dream BIG and make your dreams a reality, you go above and beyond to make a change. I was identifying problems around me, creating solutions with teams using technology and business intellect.
It was my first time learning how to code and I was learning so much about building world-class software businesses, I didn’t want to stop. Spending hours thinking through problems and getting frustrated about how your code is not working, seeking for help and eventually building the solution which in the end, users can interact with was exciting and insightful for me. My growth at MEST inspired me to keep pushing, I didn’t plan to pursue a job in IT, but the joy of seeing my journey so far and how much I had achieved with very little made me realize I had found purpose and this was my career.
Seekapor: What in your opinion can we gain collectively as a nation if we invest more in science and technology?
Lady O: Science and Technology is intertwined in our everyday lives, it promotes innovation and helps us to solve problems. Investment in science and technology should first start with our educational system where we expose our students to more practical experiments and make them think instead of copying. We will grow thinkers and problem solvers from a young age, which will help us, explore the many resources we have as a country. We will create solutions that reflect our culture and our mind-sets will change from always receiving help from foreign bodies but rather strengthening the potential in our local ecosystem.
Seekapor: Few women are pursuing careers in Science and Technology. What do you make of the gender gap in your field, especially in Ghana?
Lady O: In the Technology field, we don’t have as many women as we have men and that used to be normal but things are changing. More awareness is being created and opportunities are being presented to women to push them to further their courses and build a career in Technology. In my education growing up I was always a part of the minority because not many females are interested in STEM fields. They see other women being successful in other career outside STEM, like the lawyers, cooks, boutique shop owners etc. I believe the more role models we will have in the Technology field the more attractive it will be.
Seekapor: What do you think we stand to lose with the huge gender imbalance?
Lady O: Currently in Ghana, there is a large gender imbalance due to lot of factors like culture and what people are exposed to as they grow. Permit me to go scriptural and reference creation when God created the male. He created him complete with everything he needed to tend the soil (work) but later on He realized it wasn’t good for the man to be alone (build this world on his own), so he took half of his rib and created woman. A complete woman was made out of half of a man because the creator of the world deemed it fit to have another creation he called woman to make things better. Women are leaders by influence; by nature we incubate seeds and produce life. Businesses that have women thrive amidst circumstances.
“Women are nurturers and have the patience to see something grow, care for it, support it and encourage the people around her to make sure the vision set has achieved its purpose. Women have the intuition to perceive what could happen in the future and with determination drive all their emotions to see the success of their handiwork. Won’t the world be a better place if both creations were giving their 100% to the world in their respective roles? We are losing the diversity and touch of a woman by having less of them.”
We are better off making women become better so both male and female can give our 100% and the world is a better place by 200% than what it is now which is 100% males and 50% or less females.
Lady-Omega Hammond ( CEO, Ampersand Technologies Ltd)
Seekapor: Have you experienced a situation where you felt you lost out on an opportunity in your chosen field because of your gender?
Lady O: Yes, countless times, but I’d rather like to share on the pressure of being a female leader. You have to work twice as much to gain respect and recognition because of the status quo. It’s like the world is waiting for you to fail because you’re a female and a leader. You have to not only work on your intellect but your emotions as well. People expect you to occupy a secretarial role when you walk into meetings and when they realize you call the shots, it’s like the meeting table becomes a war field. We are fighting all these stigmas so future generations to come will have a voice.
Seekapor: Do you feel the systems are favourable to promote and sustain the interest of females in your field?
Lady O: I feel the systems to favour females are now being created and the men especially in technology are embracing female coders, business developers and the like. This has made it more welcoming and less scary. You can work from your laptop at home or in the office, put on make up and heels but still deliver on your tasks. I believe even if the systems did support females it still up to the females to make the best out of the opportunities available. Everyone is unique and has a future, the future you envision is what you will be.
Seekapor: How do you/would you like to inspire young girls to pursue an education and careers in IT and Science?
Lady O: I started an NGO with 2 friends, Linda Ansong and Angela Koranteng called STEMBees. STEMBees was started to bridge the gap in the STEM industry by empowering women and girls and teaching them using practical experiments. We code, we build projects, we expose them to what the opportunities in STEM are and have fun while doing it. We target girls as young as 5 years old to grow their minds to build successful STEM careers.
Seekapor: What drives your pursuit to reach higher in your career?
Lady O: One I don’t want to be poor, I want to be able to have the purchasing power to influence change in the world through the girls at STEMbees and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA Ghana). Growing up I wanted to have a role model I could look up to who was practical, successful and known for her works not because she is a woman. Oprah and Joyce Aryee were role models for me, there wasn’t many stories out there about African women that I had heard of who were portrayed for their works and not because they were women. Interacting with the girls pushes me to be that example they mention when they think of having a career in Technology. I want them to learn hard and work hard so they can be better than me.
Seekapor: From an individual perspective, what is the biggest challenge facing women and girls in IT and/Science?
Lady O: Mind-sets: Women have mostly been pushed to the background; we have been told our place is the kitchen and male opinions come first. We assume the males have more power than we do just because our society tells us so. We have been told a lot of things by just watching our mothers, aunties and friends. Science and Technology is not the easiest of fields but once you make up your mind you want to grow in the field you will learn more. When we think something is difficult we do less because we don’t push ourselves, we settle with the excuse and become comfortable. Exposure is very important in developing oneself. As women we must read wide and not accept the status quo. There are numerous opportunities out there but we will be stuck in what we know if we don’t read wide.
Seekapor: Any concerns or suggestions to stakeholders in Science and Technology, and the government as well in terms of the participation of women and girls in IT?
Lady O: First of all I think we should encourage more practical sessions in schools to give children a hands-on feel of what is being taught in class. It improves their ability to understand the theories taught and they can relate it to real life scenarios. Teachers shouldn’t be too dependent on extra classes to teach the children but focus on good content during school hours so they can play and explore their inner child after school. I think it’s important to make them well rounded.
Let’s encourage students to form study groups early enough and make them squad goals. Bring them out from the back of the class to the front; give them different choices to explore their inner potential. Tell them stories about the great women of our time; don’t just say the sky is the limit, show them how to break that limit with confidence and purpose. Give them a chance to speak, answer their questions and don’t shut them down. Applaud a female for her intelligence not her looks. Don’t say females are emotional so they don’t make great decisions. Guide them, teach them make them know they have the world at their disposal and they can be their best version today not tomorrow!
Seekapor: Is there any other thing you would like to share on the subject?
Lady O: I just want to say thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts, it’s amazing I get to build a career in Technology and I won’t be where I am if my parents hadn’t invested in me. I began to know who I was in the process of finding my career and they made sure they were there to support. Many parents are worried by the grades of their children and how many prizes they receive from school. All that is good but observe the creative side of your child as well, the things they do for fun and guide them on a path of discovery instead of forcing them into careers because that is what makes money. You will find the riches in what you enjoy doing because you will give it your best.
Thanks to Lady-Omega Hammond for the inspiration, and Happy Women’s Day to all the amazing Ghanaian women.