There continues to be a significant employment gap between men and women in the technology sector, with just 20% of computer science professionals being women, according to a 2021 report. This remains a surprisingly small percentage, especially considering that STEM-related jobs have grown by 79% since 1990.
Despite this noticeable gender gap in technology, there are women paving the way for others. A good example is Karen Nadasen, whom we enjoyed chatting to in a recent episode of The Agile CTO.
Karen Nadasen is regularly described as one of South Africa’s most inspiring women in tech. She is the current CEO of PayU South Africa, a global financial technology company and payment service provider. She also has many accolades to her name, including the Regional Winner (SADC) of Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government 2018.
Guy Coleman and Alan Haefele chat to Karen about her role at PayU SA, her journey as a woman in Fintech, and inspiring the next generation.
Right skills, right time
Haefele Software CEO Alan and Karen actually overlapped at the beginning of their tech careers, meeting while working at the same company, Jam Warehouse. Alan started as a junior dev, while Karen focused on Java development, testing, and even analysis. At the same time, Karen was also completing her second degree at UCT – object-oriented programming and design.
This degree gave Karen the knowledge she needed to land a great opportunity at ShopRite retail, which she cites as her first real introduction to the regular, rigorous world of transactional banking. The experience she gained in this role led to a revered position as a business and systems analyst at Microsoft while in the UK. “Landing a job at Microsoft certainly made me the envy of my friend group,” she jokes.
Karen recalls that the Microsoft interview process was really rigorous, but everything just seemed to click. “I happened to be there with the right skills,” she says. “I had just worked on a major project; completed my degree and had the experience they were looking for at the time. I think the timing is so important.”
Karen also admits that she knew the job would be challenging because she’d be working with some of the best and brightest minds in the world. “Luckily, I’m a very passionate person, so I knew I had to up my game to succeed, and I was prepared for that. Working at Microsoft was fantastic. I had lots of room for freedom and growth, which was really important to me. The company understood my way of working. They gave their employees the space to work as effectively as we could, which I really appreciated.”
Moving on and finding purpose
From Microsoft, Karen moved to BP, where she spent time working in industrial lubricants and services, doing analysis and getting into the minds of chemists. From there, Karen made her way into the IT sector of BP as part of global communications. Thanks to her colleagues and mentors, Karen soon got into DNI diversity inclusion, which she says really opened her mind. “It allowed me to look at the path or trajectory of other influential women in the industry,” she says. “A woman in tech was rare, even more so in South Africa. Going to the UK opened up some doors for me. I was invited to different forums and provided with various opportunities to really give back and start thinking about my purpose.”
She continues, “Being surrounded by really powerful women in the tech industry was really inspiring. It was incredible seeing female scientists get recognition for their contributions to science and technology. That changed things for me and gave me a new perspective. What’s more, these women were accessible, which made a huge difference. The experience really humbled me and made me think about my purpose and how I could give back.
Karen stayed with BP, and before long, nine years had passed in the UK. “Then I was ready to come back to Cape Town!” she laughs. She returned to home soil and landed at PayU.
Africa versus the world
PayU is a global company catering to over 2.5 billion consumers, 400 000-plus merchants, and 52 markets. With offices in Latin America, Eastern Europe, India, and Africa, PayU’s strength is emerging markets, with a vision to drive a financially inclusive payment sector.
Karen indicates that she believes the technology landscape in Africa is changing and ever-evolving. “I think Africa’s financial technology, Fintech, and payments spaces are evolving rapidly. We’ve already started to lay down the foundation and infrastructure. For example, moving from 2g to 5g has helped South Africa and the rest of the continent adopt a more digital world.”
She also admits that while most Fintech start-ups came out of South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are attracting a significant amount of capital. “It’s becoming competitive, and there’s now a lot more room to work and grow together in Africa. It’s an incredibly dynamic and interesting space to be in.”
Fail fast, move forward
As a successful woman in tech, Karen believes in the importance of lessons from leaders to inspire the next generation of technology greats.
“From an agile CTO perspective, you want to fail fast. That’s the mantra. Try different things, fail fast, learn and move forward. If you do this in an agile manner, then the opportunity to learn is a lot bigger. You have to be open to failure. If not, you’re not really learning and growing. Understand the risk, do your homework, keep an open mind and be willing to learn from it. I would also encourage tech leaders to learn about other markets, listen to your clients and merchants, and understand their pain points. That’s really something that has helped me.”
This post is based on an episode of The Agile CTO podcast. Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.