Shecluded’s Ifeoma Uddoh and her strides to reduce financial exclusivity for African women

Eberechukwu Etike
Gender disparity in tech financing: Insights from Ifeoma Uddoh, CEO of Shecluded

There is an African proverb that says “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” This saying was often to encourage parents to send their girls to school and it improved the gender imbalance in primary and secondary school.

When you consider that about 36% of women are financially excluded as opposed to 24% of men according to EFINA’s 2019 assessment of women’s financial inclusion, you would wonder how much the society as a whole stands to benefit if more women were financially included.

This is why Ifeoma Uddoh founded Shecluded, a female-focused fintech company that offers financial services to women. In this instalment of Women in Tech, she reveals the gender disparity regarding finances and investment, and the origin story of Shecluded.

Shecluded’s passion and purpose

Shecluded is Ifeoma Uddoh’s brainchild, borne from her own journey through life and the experiences from her childhood and her time as a young professional in the startup world.

The first of four children, Ifeoma was a first-hand witness to her mother’s strength and resilience as she navigated the difficulties of life after becoming a widow at 27. This experience highlighted the importance of financial literacy and empowerment for women, instilling a desire in Ifeoma to make a difference.

While working in a seed funding company in the tech industry, she became acutely aware of the gender disparity that existed. This revelation fuelled her desire to establish a financial company that would focus on inclusivity and cater to women, who had been historically excluded.

Drawing from her startup background, Ifeoma recognized the significance of purpose. and Shecluded was founded in 2019 with the clear purpose of bridging the gender gap in access to financial resources.

Shecluded offers essential financial support to women in an easier fashion. Departing from the traditional lengthy checklist approach of the financial system, Shecluded utilizes alternative data to assess and provide services.

One major observation during Ifeoma’s work with women was the wide gap in financial literacy. This realization further fueled her commitment to empower and educate women about their finances, enabling them to make informed decisions for their future.

I knew that when women are enabled enough to make financial decisions, it benefits them their family, and the society at large.

Becoming a startup CEO is a different ball game entirely

Being a CEO and a woman in the tech industry comes with its own set of challenges, and for Ifeoma, it’s a path of continuous learning and growth.

It feels like a lot of work, because you know as a woman, I am a mom we are always multitasking, always growing so it is a lot of work

I have worked all my life, even though I’ve worked in consulting and I’ve worked in the management sector and I worked in management positions across tech. I realized that being a CEO and a startup CEO was another ball game And frankly, everybody still the ball game I would have, you know, never, never been one.

So, it took me a lot to immediately see my weaknesses trying to sabotage me in different areas. And it took me a while to know that the goal is not to pretend like these weaknesses are not there but to find how to make up for them either by upskilling, re-skilling, or whether by getting people that will support me in those areas, but just being comfortable enough to know that, hey, I have this weakness and I want to be able to cover it, to be able to move ahead.

Closing the financial gap for female business owners

The gender disparity in funding is a widely recognized issue in the tech ecosystem. Ife sheds light on the reasons behind this gap.

So in terms of tech, I mean to be very frank before I started Shecluded, I was working in the seed funding space and I was there for four years. I’m not sure I saw up to 10 women...

According to the Shecluded CEO, historically, the tech and finance sectors were male-dominated, and this legacy still somehow influences the investment landscape.

Typically, you tend to connect well with people who talk like you and sound like you, and what has predominately happened over the years is that people who write cheques tend to be men…

Still on the financial gap even for small business female owners who are looking up to the traditional financial system, Ifeoma explained that,

Traditional financial systems were built at a time when women were not key players. They were built by men and over the years, it has not improved

She believes that even though it looks like more women have started working in this field, the main people in charge of making important decisions are still mostly men. The rules for deciding who gets money and support are still a bit unfair and favour men.

Because of this, women have understood this unfairness on a subconscious level, and as a result, they don’t bother trying to get that support.

Also, networking, a crucial aspect of accessing resources and support, can also be affected by these biases, as people tend to connect with those they find more relatable.

More women were predominately in sectors where funding was not coming to, and even at that many of them were in the micro level. However, Ifeoma remains optimistic as she witnesses more women entering the tech space, receiving funding, and building profitable businesses.

The importance of women-focused initiatives

Gender disparity in tech financing: Insights from Ifeoma Uddoh, CEO of Shecluded

Ifeoma Uddoh challenges the notion of women-focused companies confining themselves to specific gender-related roles and not diversifying across other areas. She believes that this limitation is not a harmful decision.

When I saw the data and got the leading to start Shecluded, everyone was saying why do you want to start a female-focused company, you are cutting almost 50% of the population out…

She argues that as increasing numbers of women participate in different industries and identify opportunities, their presence becomes a catalyst for more women to feel empowered and recognize their own potential in fields such as tech.

By highlighting the growing trend of women-led tech startups, Uddoh underscores how this phenomenon cultivates an empowering atmosphere and sets an example for women to explore and excel in various sectors beyond the confines of gender-defined roles or industries.

Challenges on the path to success for Shecluded

Ifeoma Uddoh’s experience with starting Shecluded according to her was been a road with difficulties. People doubting her idea of starting a fintech company for women, getting the first funding, finding the right team, and adjusting to her role as a CEO were some of the challenges she encountered.

Being the first female-focused company in Nigeria, it was a hectic challenge for Ifeoma to navigate through the already existing challenges every startup founder faces, and as a woman, she did not escape the effect of the funding gap in the country.

The first person she pitched to was not interested in her idea and in order to do what most female founders do in this situation; prove they are capable and very invested in their company, Ifeoma started the company with practically all her savings.

I went to the bank, withdrew all my savings (27 million Naira), and started Shecluded.

She had to put in her own funding to get the traction she needed and to convince people that the idea was not as bland as they thought it was. Since its inception in 2019, Ifeoma Uddoh explained that Shecluded has empowered thousands of women.

In terms of access to credits, I think we have given over 3,570 women, in terms of training, and different upscaling events, we have done over 17,000.

Shecluded makes money by charging interest when they give out loans for investments. The interest rates they charge range from 2.9% to 4%, which depends on how much money is invested. If someone has trouble paying back the money they borrowed, Ifeoma Uddoh mentioned that they often get assistance from recovery companies to handle these situations.

Promoting gender equality and inclusion in tech

Ifeoma believes that government policies play a big part in making sure men and women are treated the same in the tech industry. She suggests things like giving benefits to people who invest money in businesses led by women, working together with local community projects, and setting up things that will help for a long time, like good structures.

By helping women who start their own businesses, governments can make the economy better because women can also contribute a lot. Having different kinds of people and being fair to everyone is really important for the tech industry to do well. Ifeoma thinks it’s really helpful to share more stories about women who have succeeded in tech.

This can make young girls feel like they can do it too. She also says it’s good to start teaching about science and technology early and to make sure everyone has the same chances. If the tech world starts being fair and has many different people, it can become even better and more creative.

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