Meet Janet Silantoi, Founder of Butterfly Techies, Kenya

May 4, 2019


Janet’s bio 

Janet is passionate about technology and women empowerment. She received her Business Information Technology degree from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and is a Certified Information Security Incident Handler (E-CIH). She is currently an Assistant ICT Officer at ICT Authority for the Kenyan Government.

Her professional interests focus is on cyber-security incident handling and Forensics. Ms. Janet has over five years of work experience in different sectors including banking and FMCG’s (Fast moving consumer goods companies) as a banking assistant, customer service representative, and a system analyst respectively. Her current projects include supporting the national ICT projects at ICT Authority.

Following her passion in Women empowerment, she is the founder of a community-based organization “Butterfly Techies” based in Samburu in rural Kenya. She works with girls in high schools to take up STEM-related subjects and eventually careers. In creating a holistic approach to life for the girls, she included financial literacy, soft & life skills as part of her training as a way of breaking the harmful cultural practices in the region as the girls are put in a position of making informed decisions with their life.

In addition, Ms. Janet is a TechWomen Fellow and was honored to be one among 100 emerging leaders in 2017 for her contributions in mentoring young girls from marginalized communities to join the STEM field. TechWomen is an initiative of the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. The program aims to empower, connect and support the next generation of women leaders in STEM from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East by providing them with the access and opportunity needed to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and inspire women and girls in their communities through mentorship and exchange. The program’s selection process becomes more competitive every year and in 2017, Ms. Janet was selected among 100 emerging leaders out of 4000 applicants.

She is also a Mandela Washington Fellow and was honored to be among outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa, 700 Young Leaders from the whole of Africa in 2018 in recognition of her efforts as a young leader. The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. The Fellowship provides participants with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. college or university with support for professional development after they return home. The fellows have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive impact in their organizations, institutions, communities, and countries.

Her aspiration is to be a seasoned Cyber Security expert as she aims to pursue a master’s degree in Cyber Security and Forensics with the aim of filling up the missing skill set in the field which is common in Kenya, and Africa at large. Ms. Janet, a trailblazer for the women in her field, seeks to make others joining the field feel supported and encouraged. She aims to start a Cyber Security Consultancy firm in Kenya that will support her goal of increasing the scope of her mentorship activities with high school girls as a way of encouraging them to join STEM fields. The consulting firm will be instrumental in giving the young girls carrier guidance and hands-on skills.

Ms. Janet is passionate about any task she undertakes and is a strong believer in teamwork and collaboration. During her free time, she enjoys time with family and activities with her 2 children as well as networking, organizing and attending social events. Her mantra in life is “working smart not hard”.

Why did you get into STEM?

I got into STEM by choice though I was not getting much support for my choice. I come from a community that does not value girl education and though my dad strived to take us (all my 3 sisters) to school, he was careful to have us take careers that will still make us ‘wife material’. So by default, I was advised to take up nursing or teaching. However, I was very keen on global trends from an early edge and I had a feeling that a course in technology will give me an edge in the competitive job market.

What do you consider your greatest achievements?

My greatest achievement to date I can say was being selected for 2 prestigious exchange programs, both in the USA courtesy of the state department. I am privileged to be a Mandela Washington fellow 2018 and a TechWomen fellow 2017. Both programs have enabled me to sharpen my leadership and technical skills respectively. But above all, the programs enabled me to meet with influencers from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. They have both been eye-opening and have been opportunities to collaborate on similar projects across different countries.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?

As a woman in STEM, I have had to deal with stereotypes and I have had to prove myself more than my male counterparts. There is an instance that stuck with me. I was facilitating a cybersecurity awareness training and the male trainees thought I was there to make notes on behalf of my male colleagues that were also facilitating different sessions. After my session, I gained respect from the attendants since they understood I was an expert in my own right and my gender had nothing to do with it. As a woman STEM, I have also had to work in environments that were not tailored to cater to a woman needs at different stages of their lives. For instance, when I got my second baby, I had to go back to work while still lactating my daughter and that meant that I needed to express milk while at work. Being the only female in the department then, my male colleagues could not relate to my struggles. A private room to express milk was a challenge and I at times would do it from one of the stores or lock myself in a boardroom. It was not the best of environments but this was a new challenge for them also since they had never had a woman in the department before.

What is your advice to budding women in STEM?

If you are in STEM by choice and its something you are passionate about, then the challenges faced will not stop you. Be the best at what you do and as women, we have God-given abilities that enable us to strive in STEM, matched with knowledge and skills, we become the best. A proper support system also goes in hand. Get a mentor and allow yourself to learn from others. At the same time, be a mentor to a younger woman in STEM and create a vicious cycle that will see the number of women in STEM increase.

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