Girls in ICT Day context
Since 2010, every 4th Thursday of April we commemorate the #GirlsinICT Day.
Due to the enormous digital gender gap that has been evidenced over the years.
And, even if many efforts have been done to mitigate this, there is a long way to go yet.
This is a global issue of course and Uruguay is not the exception.
According to CUTI just 28% of people in tech industry are women
This year we have decided to share with our community the stories, experiences, and insights from 3 of our women Switchers.
We think is a good way to give visibility to our women talent, to leverage women referents for girls wondering if tech is for them or not, and to know firsthand their experiences and their recommendations and advice to improve the current situation.
Andrea Ruiz (20, Systems Engineering Student), Laura Reyes (35, Computer Analyst), and Noelia Cegarra (28, Computer Scientist) were the ones integrating this panel.
While they are all part of our Development team, they have different ages, education, and expertise. What is more, Noelia is not even Uruguayan but a Venezuelan talent working remotely for us.
During the interviews, we went through their beginnings, their experiences, recommendations on initiatives to work on this gap, and even advice for girls and women who are evaluating tech as a professional option.
It was enriching and revealing. Find below the main insights on each topic.
When and why did you decide to be part of this industry?
They were all attracted to computers at an early age, however, Laura came into the tech industry by chance.
“I was looking for something different from what common high school programs offered and I ended up coming across the technological high school program in computer science at UTU. I always liked computers, so even though I had no idea how they work, I gave it a try.” Andrea said.
Noelia was influenced by her sister, she was her referent in this industry.
“When I had to decide which career I was going to study at university, my sister guided me through the process. She studied informatics, so she told me what it was about and I thought it could be interesting. I didn’t know what computer science was about and I hadn’t heard enough about it either but her opinion was so important that I finally decided to study this career.”
Laura was the exception, even if she loved computers, it was not until some years after that she gave a chance to tech.
She explained: “I have been always attracted to computers, programs, design, and drawing. However, I got into the IT industry a bit by chance. I started studying accounting and working as an administrator, but soon I realized that it wasn’t something I liked, so I decided to try other alternatives. I start studying programming and here I am! I love this industry and I think changing careers was the best decision I made.”
What attracted you the most at that time and what attracts you now?
When discussing what attracts them the most from the industry and their work, it was clear how much this industry has to offer.
Laura loves creating from scratch and being a lifelong learner: “I get a blank document and in days or weeks, I have a website, a mockup, or functionality to show and to be proud of.
In addition, I love that tech is a fast-paced industry, with an ever-changing reality: new languages, frameworks, technologies, etc. So, you are always learning something new, you never get that feeling of being stagnant.”
No time to get bored, we agree!
Andrea is just 20, as said, so she is a digital nomad! Take a look what she said. Not surprising I guess!
“Currently what I value most in tech is flexibility, beyond remote work, which is already widespread in the industry. You just need a computer and an internet connection to work, so you can truly work from anywhere.”
You are right Andrea, this is awesome and a distinctive aspect of this industry, allowing a better work/life balance, and opening many work opportunities for people in the countryside.
What is the most difficult part of your job and what do you enjoy the most?
We do know they love their work but we have asked them to share with us the most difficult part of their job and what do they enjoy the most:
“What I enjoy the most is its difficulty!” Andrea said. “I love facing and solving challenges, and complicated challenges are the most fulfilling ones. In IT we have plenty of them! If you get bored with your daily work, you are probably in the wrong place.”
Being able to build digital products, that will probably impact people´s lives, just from an idea the client has introduced and being able to solve problems and overcome challenges while having learned something new is what Laura and Noelia enjoyed the most.
However, Noelia has explained that as tech requires continuous learning, it could be considered a bit challenging if you are looking to remain in your comfort zone.
That is not her case of course. And is not Laura’s either.
Laura loves learning new things, but being adaptable and flexible is the toughest aspect of her work:
“One of the biggest difficulties in developing is being flexible enough to adapt to changes in customer requirements and their priority within a project. Frameworks and tools being used can change as well, depending on the project, the client, etc.”
Doubtless, adaptability is a non-negotiable soft skill for a software developer.
What do you think are the main reasons why so few women choose science and technology careers?
The IT industry is one of the fastest-growing ones; according to the 2021 IT Labor Monitor in Uruguay labor demand linked to information technologies has constituted, in the period of the study, approximately one fifth of the total demand made through web portals.
Even though, few women choose technology careers.
They have all agreed on the main reason: education and socialization.
From Laura’s point of view “during childhood men are given computers and video game consoles as gifts, while women are given dolls, makeup kits, and cleaning apparel. When you grow up you think that some roles or tasks are for men and others for women, while is not like that”.
Noelia added: “It is well known that there is a huge difference in how children are stimulated at early ages depending on their gender. Neither in schools nor at home are girls encouraged enough to pursue tech careers.”
Andrea introduced as a major reason for this gap the lack of women referents for those tech roles: “I think the stereotype that the person who works in these areas acts like a character from The Big Bang Theory leads many people to not even consider science and technology as a career option.
This is even worse for women, as computer scientists are represented mainly by young men. In my opinion, lately, this is changing and I think it will have a positive impact on the gender gap in those careers.”
What do you think is the greatest impact of this lack of female talent at the company level? How does it affect them?
We do agree that women are gaining visibility and companies, associations, chambers and many other organizations are working hard to close the gap.
Fortunately this is happening, as this has a major impact on the economy, industry, each company, and their outcomes.
I said economy as the digital transformation of companies is a growing trend globally and locally. The implementation of digital tools and technological resources driven by talent linked to technologies permeates processes, activities, and products from almost every industry; this is part of the digitization of the economy.
So this gap is not just affecting the IT sector but the overall economy, as every industry is looking for talent with tech profile and expertise.
They agreed that “ Women are half the population and companies are potentially depriving themselves of those talented people, while they desperately need it.”
Additionally, Noelia explained that any company or project including women’s perspectives and experience would gain in creativity and innovation. So, we could say that their output is not as good as it could be.
Last, but not least, Laura identified it as a vicious circle: “being few women, makes the environment more “for men”, so fewer women feel attracted to enter this world.”
Besides, she added, the lack of representation of women in several positions in the technology sector means that many business opportunities are lost because there is a large number of products and services that women use daily and they are not being given the necessary importance.
In fact, I would add that in a world where the social seems to prevail, having a feminine vision can be an enormous advantage. Do you agree?
What would you recommend to a girl who is interested in the technology field?
The main advice from our Switchers : Not to give up!
As Laura and Noelia said, mainly at the beginning it could be complicated, you could feel insecure or somehow discouraged during the journey, but it is worth it because it is a fantastic career and industry.
As general advice, Noelia added: “I would tell her to prepare herself, the way she feels comfortable, not just from the technical side, but to develop and train soft skills, as this will help her to be flexible and to adapt to our ever-changing tech context.”
Andrea introduced an interesting topic: not thinking just about IT industry while talking about tech roles.
“There are many ways to enter this field and even if they don’t join the IT industry, there are plenty of options in other industries; in a digitized world, technological skills are transversal to all areas and industries.”
Based again on 2021 IT Labor Monitor in Uruguay, they have registered 2,547 job calls, almost 25% of total, related to tech roles for companies from non IT industries.
As already said, this is related to the digitization of various sectors of the national economy and not just the IT sector.
What initiatives do you think should be given at a social, educational, business level, to shorten this gap?
Changes needed won’t be a reality overnight; they require the whole society to get involved.
Even if each company should have a preponderant and transformational role and we must commit ourselves to it, is not just up to companies.
Laura elaborated on this topic: “At the educational level, fairs or conventions could be held with the different types of roles that exist within the industry, and even if they should be open to all genders, somehow efforts towards including girls should be done.
At a business level, it would be good to hold communication workshops, train people to be empathic, respectful, considerate, and try to develop diversity skills.
Each company should ensure to make women feel comfortable at work, they should know that they should talk to HR if they’re harassed, that hostile language or microaggressions should not be tolerated, etc.
It should also be reconsidered how people are socialized during childhood, avoiding toys, clothes, attitudes, etc. as being for a specific gender; the objective should be not to condition our elections, everyone should have the same opportunities to explore different future career options with more freedom.”
Noelia reinforced this idea:
“Early stimulation is the key. Children, despite their gender, should be encouraged to pursue their interests with freedom. Somehow, we should get rid of the wrong and harmful idea that there are careers just for men or women.”
Andrea highlighted as a good signal having introduced the computer as a pedagogical tool at an early age; she thinks it should encourage curiosity about technology among children, while they are open to new experiences.
Taking advantage of this she proposed we should have more projects intended to approach the IT area focused on girls at early ages, as most of the existing ones are targeted to teenagers and young people.
If education and socialization are so key in breaking this bias and closing the gap, I wonder if we should involve much more parents and families. Sometimes approaching girls in their “teens” seems to be too late… What do you think about?
What difficulties or prejudices did you face as a woman during your career and in your professional life?
Laura has not faced serious issues during her career: “just some comments about women not being able to deal with computers, or people saying it is easier to work with men than females, as they consider women as complicated.”
The worst one was in my first job, where I met a person very hostile toward women, but not toward men. Being the only woman within the development team in that company, it was very difficult for me to cope with the day-to-day, and I easily understand that I would not be able to grow in my career there, so I had to seek another job!” Laura told with resignation.
As Noelia pointed out, living and working from Venezuela has its own disadvantages as work environments are less inclusive.
When seeking a job she has had bad experiences during some job interviews, while in some companies she realized her opinion was not taken into account as they did with other male co-workers.
How should you define your experience at Switch with this topic?
I think we all agree we need to work for a better world, plenty of empowered people, regardless of gender or labels.
This is what we are doing in Switch, with self-criticism when needed, generating awareness and engagement, and working for a diverse and equal work environment.
However, we wanted to know how their experience with us was going and how they think we could improve.
Andrea emphasized our culture as well as HR work: “Extremely positive! And I think this has been possible thanks to Switch Culture and the HR team, which work every day to provide us with the best experience in all aspects.”
Laura encouraged us to keep going! “No issues at all! And I’d like to encourage Switch to keep doing that kind of activity to help women entering the industry and those already in.”
After some uncomfortable experiences with local companies, Noelia is delighted with her Switch experience: “Since I started everyone has been very approachable and they also placed me in a good team where my opinion is taken into account and that has made me grow professionally even though I haven’t been part of the company for too long. It’s an experience that I hadn’t had before.”
Techy For The Day 2022
On April 28th Switch will take part of CUTI initiative, Techy for the Day. We will bring our industry and company closer to girls from Cardona, Soriano during a virtual meet-up.
We will introduce to them, through some of our women Switchers, with games, presentations, hands-on activities, etc. , some tech roles, like Project Manager, tester, developer, and designer.
Our main idea is to let them know what each role implies on a day-to-day, how should they prepare themselves to get there, and clarify whatever is needed.
Not sure yet how many students will join us but as we have discussed internally, even if they are a few, we will move forward, as just impacting/helping one girl is highly valuable for us.
We are convinced, as well, that this event should be just our kick-off for doing that kind of activity throughout the year.