IT is among the top 10 occupations that are still dominated by men, with women making up just 16.4% of the IT Engineering workforce, according to Wise. For an industry that is natively innovative and modern, and that today undergoes such a major resource crunch, such statistics are certainly disheartening.
To celebrate Women’s Day we invited 3 very successful women at Parser to share their experience, views and suggestions about the role of women in IT and the industry as a whole. This is what Ariadna Trueba, Technical QA Director; Mercedes Borras, Head of People Operations; and Sarah Ching, Business Director told us.
How did you find yourself in the IT space? Was it something you always aspired to do as you were growing up?
Mercedes: When I started my career in HR in Argentina, I used to work for smaller, local companies and IT did not naturally come to mind as a potential industry to build a career in HR. Now working at Parser, I feel very happy and proud to have been given the opportunity to experience this industry and the opportunity it presents. It is a space where you can actually do things that really matter.
Sarah: I didn’t intend to be either in the tech industry. My background was in the start-up world and I joined Skype in my early days, which, on my second day, was acquired by Microsoft. All of a sudden, I was one of 140,000 people in a tech giant! At Microsoft because I was good at forming relationships, I was asked to spin up a website in four months. I worked with Microsoft’s technical teams and hired one quality assurance specialist, one front-end developer, one back-end developer and one designer, to build an agile website that would do all the things that the live website wasn’t able to. This got me really excited about what’s possible in a very short amount of time; to see results so quickly and to actually build something. I loved being part of that.
Ariadna: In my case, I always wanted to be an engineer since I was a little kid. I always had a computer at home and tried to figure out how it works. Of course, when you are a child, you don’t really understand much about software or quality assurance, but as I grew older, I started to learn and understand more; for example, I learned the different branches of computer science. In the early days of my career, I was more involved with hardware and software but gradually progressed into quality assurance which was a new, exciting world and science for me. The bottom line is, I always knew I wanted to be in the world of engineering, knowing what’s behind the scenes in both hardware and software, and now from a quality perspective. Because at the end, I am a user, so my aim is to make sure that users, like me, get the best experience, the best quality possible.
Are women pursuing a career in IT?
Ariadna: So far what I’ve seen is that there are way more men in tech than women. As if IT was meant to be for men. I am not sure why this is, but at least I think now we are starting to see more young women entering the industry. Perhaps this is because younger generations have been exposed to technology from an early age, so they have a better understanding and more motivation to start a career in software engineering. But we still have a long way to go. Society at large is still not projecting IT as a meaningful career for women.
Mercedes: One of the problems we have at least here in Argentina, is the lack of visibility of the possibilities you have to build a career in IT. As a student, when you are looking to select what you want to focus your studies on, IT is not promoted. I think people start a career in IT because they already know someone who made it in the industry. However, because as an industry it has historically been dominated by men, it naturally tends to attract more men. So, from our side I think we have the challenge to promote software engineering as a vocation and as a career to a wider audience. It is this visibility that will attract more women to the industry.
Sarah: I used to work in Edtech and my job was to partner with some of the big tech giants like Google and Microsoft to put courses on the platform. Throughout that time I’ve seen the take up from women gradually increasing. And I think this is because Edtech helped provide a more flexible platform of education enabling women who had to balance children and families, to start building skills and qualifications at their own pace, place and time.
How has the role of women in IT evolved?
Mercedes: It has definitely improved over the past few years, and we see more women in managerial and C-level roles. This is important because at more senior levels you can make a real impact not just on the culture of the company, but on the industry as a whole. Having said that, I do still see a lot of differences between men and women in high positions, be it in salaries or actual decision-making power. This is an area that I believe everyone in our industry needs to work to improve.
Sarah: In terms of women leaders in IT, although there are definitely more women now than a few years back, I think the pace is still slow. I know the customers that I work with every day are keen to increase the number of women overall and consequently in senior roles. However, there are not that many female engineers to effectively fill in the positions and this is a cross-industry phenomenon that we are seeing. It’s hard. The opportunities need to be there, but so do the skilled and experienced individuals. Although the accessibility may have improved, IT professionals, women and men, still need to build the necessary experience to get to a C-level role, so I believe we need some more time to get there.
Ariadna: Unfortunately, I think that women still need to fight more than men to prove their worth despite having the same or even better credentials. The positive development I see now is that engineering has established many more fields of study than before when it was just hardware and software. This allows for more opportunities to specialise and progress, but still, we are not where we should be.
What do you think companies like Parser and the IT industry as a whole can do to promote diversity and inclusion to accelerate change?
Mercedes: I believe we need to start getting through to younger people. As Ariadna said, younger generations are growing up with technology and it’s to them we should try to showcase the career potential within IT. So, visibility is key, not only in the different career paths, but also in the ways we work. The IT industry has much different ways of working than the more traditional industries. The flexibility, the opportunity to manage your own time, the ability to work remotely from wherever you are. These are significant traits that would appeal not only to women, but many professionals across age groups and genders.
Ariadna: Visibility is the most important factor. And visibility through the channels that young people are engaging with, like social networks, is the best way to promote how women can build a career in IT. Here however it is important to consider the role of the companies in the industry. Parser does encourage and enable women to build a career, but there are still many companies where the top decision-making roles are male dominated. This may be because women have children and may have to put their career on hold for a while. But I believe it is companies like Parser, that acknowledge this sacrifice and do not allow it to stop the progression of their female employees, that at the end of the day, will attract and retain better talent in the long run.
Sarah: I agree that visibility is critical, but it’s also on us, the women who build a career in IT to celebrate what we are doing and how well we do it, and share that with our network. And yes, initiatives that help showcase women in IT are important, but I think there is an element of championing women further than just our roles within our company.