Does the code have gender? A survey about female communities in IT

8 marzo 2018
Does the code have gender? A survey about female communities in IT
We' ve asked coordinators from five IT women's communities in Argentina, Poland, Russia and Ukraine, five questions about women's work, traditions, stereotypes and sexist jokes.

— Why do women come together in their own separate communities? Is your group more of a worker’s union, or a social club based on shared interests?

Yas García, Media Chicas, Co-founder, Buenos Aires: When we launched Media Chicas, it is that a non-profit organization and a community, we did not know if the reception of a space where the majority are women (Media Chicas, not excluding men) would be ideal. With the passage of time with different events, the answer is yes. Women feel more confident to express their problems about digital divide, exclusion in technological spaces, leadership and violence. Media Chicas is an organization that seeks the digital inclusion of women, with training programs about technologies, ventures and networking spaces. With a lot of effort from the MC team with the help of the sponsors that make it possible, because all the activities for the community are free.

Nataliia Ilchenko, Women Who Code, Director, Kyiv: Only about 15% of all people working in IT in Ukraine are women. We see a different future, where women in IT will be represented proportionally to their general share of the population. We want women to work as technical leaders, managers, or software engineers, and to found their own start-ups and serve on boards of directors. That’s why we’re creating a community in Kiev where women can share their experiences together in a comfortable way, and learn, and develop their leadership skills. It’s a group for women to communicate about topics that men might not know about, or might never encounter (and such topics do exist).

We’d like women to have fewer barriers in their career path. There are other groups as well, that unite, for example, around their race:

Sara Pstrowska, Geek Girls Carrots, Coordinator, Wroclaw: I would rather say Geek Girls Carrots are closer to a social club. We are attracting women to tech, showing them it doesn’t have to be a men’s world and that actually women are doing pretty well there. It’s just that there are not so many of them. We care about networking a lot, about girls getting connected to other girls, who may become their mentors or simply a friend, who understand and share their concerns. This idea of more women in technology, we truly believe is with benefit for us all and we try to promote it by breaking stereotypes in society’s thinking.

Elena Fedorova, HRM Director DataArt & Women Techmakers, Leader, Voronezh: The issue of discrimination against women exists throughout the world, and I think it’s really important to talk about them. We also get together in order to tell women, including those who don’t have a technical education background, that IT, a sector that really is considered to be a male field, is actually open to women too. There are all kinds of professions available in this field, and there are definitely examples of women who’ve achieved great things in IT. We want to inspire young women to develop not only within their family life, but within their profession as well. Maybe even in a new profession.

Aleksandra Wróblewska, Women TechStyle, Leader, Lublin: Women TechStyle is a community which aims at distinguishing women professionally involved in the field of modern technologies. One of our activities are meetups. We’d like to make everyone comfortable, we choose venues that are connected with technologies — IT companies’ offices, pubs, coffee places. During each meetup there are 2-4 presentations scheduled, conducted mostly by women but men are also welcome. We’d like to make WT a community which actively influences the way the industry develops.

— What problems do women programmers run into?

Yas García, Media Chicas, Co-founder, Buenos Aires: The biggest problem begins in the social culture of gender inequality, in our families not encouraging women in technological education; Education about equality is the root of everything, because then it moves to the workplace. Women must face that men, by default, are elected as team leaders regardless of whether there are women with greater capacity, skills and qualifications; Male comments are a common currency; women in men's environments are not listened to for their ideas; the value of salaries is about 20 percent less. Women are in the care of the child and "they call love, it is work without salary" that a woman has, just because she is a woman, an obligation that must be shared with the couple. Luckily in the technological sectors, companies are making decisions to shorten the gap and seek inclusion policies and equal pay. We are at the moment of changing the culture to achieve a future with equality and equity.

Sara Pstrowska, Geek Girls Carrots Coordinator, Wroclaw: I think the biggest problem we have to face is ourselves. So far my wage hasn’t been smaller because of my gender, nor do I know anyone who suffered this kind of injustice. In my work environment no one jokes about me in an inappropriate way nor treats me patronizing. Either I’ve just been very lucky either things are really changing out there. The very other thing is how women (including myself) think about their skills and their capacity to be equally brainy as men. I have the impression we tend to underestimate what we know, seek for perfection in given tasks, and usually focus on what is not ideal, instead of what has been done well. We are very ambitious and demanding towards ourselves and it seems to me we take failures personally. This brings a lot of stress and blocks us from feeling competent, good enough and worthy.

Elena Fedorova, HRM Director DataArt & Women Techmakers, Leader, Voronezh: Problems take on its own particularities in each country. For example, I’ve spoken with women from countries in southern Europe, and according to them, if a woman goes on maternity leave to have a child, it’s highly likely that she’ll lose her job in doing so. The situation looks better in Russia and Ukraine from this point of view. By following the rules, companies in these countries give women the chance to go on maternity leave and come back to their previous workplace. DataArt, where I myself work, as well as many other companies, often offer special conditions under which women can work in a lesser volume while they’re taking care of their child during maternity leave.

I’d say that nobody is surprised today when they meet a woman programmer. It seems to me that nobody looks down on women who work in IT, and nobody would dare to joke about them either.

Do women in the IT profession need to be protected from jokes by men? Or is the IT sphere generally made up of people who are smart enough not to make insensitive jokes?

Yas García, Media Chicas, Co-founder, Buenos Aires: Women have to put an alarm on sexist comments, part of this change is for women to explain that it is disrespectful. Workplace bullying has several styles of violence, verbal bullying is common. Companies need to acquire anti-harassment policies towards women to achieve a safe workplace.

Sara Pstrowska, Geek Girls Carrots Coordinator, Wroclaw: As I said already I have not encountered any sexist jokes myself, thus I was not in need of protection. But we sometimes hear these stories when a prize for an employee of the year is night with a famous porn star or when women are not allowed to a business party, because her presence would “spoil the fun”, whatever the definition of “men’s” fun in this case would be. I find it very awful.

— Some experts believe that women are more careful looking for work and life balance. May be IT demands too much time spent for work?

Yas García, Media Chicas, Co-founder, Buenos Aires: I think it's not a matter of time, it's a matter of rights. A woman who works in a technology company, is willing to work hard, because she knows that it will cost everything more, achieve a leadership position, climb the structure of the company, have a salary plus something; and something no less: pregnant women sometimes have to resign because companies do not have "homeoffice" work policies for pregnant or postpartum women.

Sara Pstrowska, Geek Girls Carrots Coordinator, Wroclaw: Maybe it’s also connected to the fact, that women are expected to take care of how their houses function. It is true that an essential trade in IT is being up to date with new technologies and this obviously requires some time. This is why I believe girls should get interested in technology, not work there because it has this fame of being an employee market. When you’re fascinated by something, it doesn’t feel like work. I think in every company there is this person, who truly lives IT, works over 60 hours a week, knows everything about everything and is engaged in several tech projects on a side. What could be learnt from this lifestyle is genuine passion about technology, but this approach is also very straight and easy way to burn out. I think many people come to this conclusion and no one expects sacrificing personal life for work.

Aleksandra Wróblewska, Women TechStyle, Leader, Lublin: The IT industry is for sure friendly towards women, family, maternity. There’s a lot of stability in these jobs nowadays — this gives much sense of security. There’s also a possibility of working remotely which you don’t normally have working in other professions. If your child is sick or something unexpected happens, it’s not necessary to use your days off — you may as well just work from home.

Another big plus is flexible working hours, these comes as an advantage when you have to drive children around for any extracurricular activities of just get stuck in traffic jams. Working in IT gives a lot of freedom. Allows women to successfully combine doing their job right with having a family.

Elena Fedorova, HRM Director DataArt & Women Techmakers, Leader, Voronezh: In fact, the IT sphere is generally quite a flexible business sector. Where else can you work from home quite often? Where else can you feed your baby and then continue writing code? Furthermore, it’s not by accident that even in countries where companies keep a woman’s position in the company for three years when she goes on maternity leave, women rarely take all three years for their leave. It’s not just that women are afraid of losing their skills if they fail to keep up with the development of technology. Instead, we just find the field that we work in to be really interesting. Therefore, women often come right back to work part-time as soon as they get the chance, or take on certain projects without working full time. This too is not possible in just every profession. But IT makes it possible for a women to do these things in general. So in terms of balance, IT is the perfect field to work in for any woman!