Unsurprisingly, the UN theme for International Women’s Day in 2023, 8 March, is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. As the digital technology world keeps changing at a very rapid pace (think only about the latest developments in AI and VR), women keep making invaluable contributions to its development.
In a field that was historically predominantly male, the changes towards more equal gender representation are slow to pick up, albeit positive. The Pulse Report based on the 23rd Developer Nation global survey reaching more than 26,000 developers in 163 countries finds, ”Although the representation of participants who self-identified as female has seen some increase compared to our previous survey wave (17.4%) [in Q1 2022] to reach 21% [in Q3 2022], there is still a lot of room for improvement in representation, as participants self-identified as male, accounted for 78.3% of the total number.” Nowadays there is a rising number of initiatives aimed at supporting women in tech, but the road towards equality is still long.
Today, we are talking to 3 fantastic women from Youwe, who are kindly sharing their perspectives on their careers in the tech and digital world, and key lessons for fellow female peers who dare to venture a similar track.
Dorieke Berends, Magento Backend Developer from the Netherlands, joined Youwe in early 2018. “I started as a Junior Developer without any experience. I'm a Medior Developer now,” shares Dorieke proudly. She initially studied Arts, Culture and Media, only to switch after a few years to Middle Eastern Culture and Languages studies. “And I didn't end up doing anything with that at all,” laughs Dorieke, “When I was done with my university studies, I already knew I wanted to do programming.”
“My exposure to technical courses started at a pretty young age; I think I was 11 when my school already had an HTML course - they called it a programming course [continues laughing]. I really liked it and I was quite good at it, compared to my classmates. But I guess it never occurred to me that tech could be a career option for women. While I was at university, I still had a lot of fun doing a little programming on the side. And then it suddenly dawned on me - wait a second, maybe I should just do this?”
For Elisabeth Escribano from Spain, Software Architect and Circle Lead at Youwe, the experience was quite different. “My mother was a rule-breaker – back in the 80s she was among the first women in the field of Informatics in Spain. I never thought that was something that I could not do, because I saw her doing it. She was teaching "Basic" programming language and I was five or six when I started visiting her classes. At home, we had a lot of computers and I would test the things that she demonstrated in class. I really liked this.”
Being an introvert, it was easy for Elisabeth to lose herself in the world of computers, something her mother detected quickly. “My mother forbade me to touch computers, as I would rather spend time playing with computers than with other children. I was allowed to go back to computers only in high school.” When it came to choosing her higher education major, Elisabeth had her mind set on psychology, but her mother encouraged her to revisit her first love of programming. “All worked out in the end,” shares Elisabeth, “but I still have that thing for psychology – that is why I am doing the coaching courses now.”
Ashwini Mone, Drupal Developer at Youwe, originally from India, shares her experience of starting in the tech industry, “I graduated with an Engineering degree in Electronics. Tech was something completely different from my educational background. After I graduated, I had to move to a different city in search of a job, and my first job was actually in tech. It was a very hands-on experience and we learned everything on the job. So landing in tech for me was just a coincidence. And I liked it.“
“Interestingly enough, most of the women that I studied with are in tech today.”
Elisabeth nods, “During my higher education days, only 2% of students were women. The first day of the higher education, one of the professors even said that Informatics was not for women. I thought – really?! I will prove you wrong. I followed every course I could find, even the ones through the local employment bureau. I taught myself Visual Basic even before we learned it in class. The day I corrected the wrongly posed question of that very same professor was the best day ever! And even later, when I did my internship, I felt I had to work twice as hard as my male colleagues to be taken seriously.”
“Coming to the Netherlands was very refreshing because here I would often hear – oh, it's very nice that we can have more women in tech,” Elisabeth concludes.
“What I've noticed is that I keep telling myself - I really need to do everything perfectly, because I am representing women in tech,” Dorieke adds a new perspective. She continues, “In the beginning, it was a little bit harder to be very confident in my own skills, because sometimes I wouldn't know if people really valued my work, or that they valued me because I was a woman in a male-dominated field, and they wanted to have equality in that field.”
“Then I have to tell you a secret,” Elisabeth laughs, “I actually remember when you started as a Junior Developer. I kept hearing all this great feedback about you and how fast you are picking up everything.” Now also Dorieke laughs.
When asked what they wished they had known before, all three of them happily chime in.
Dorieke starts, “ I wish it had occurred to me sooner that it was OK for a woman to pursue a career in IT. Before I made that choice, I was very nervous, considering if I could be happy in a male-dominated field or if I am setting myself up for a career full of struggle to be taken seriously. It was a scary decision to make, but it turned out just fine.”
Ashwini nods, “I wish didn't doubt myself in the beginning. There weren’t many female role models in tech, so that's something I greatly missed. There were all these men around, so I started questioning - am I doing what I should be doing? Is this for me?”
“I used to blame my mother for keeping me away from computers throughout my childhood. But now I am grateful, I would never have been the person I am now, had she not pushed me out of my introverted shell,” says Elisabeth.
And their message for women considering a career in tech?
Dorieke starts, “If you want to work in tech, but the idea of working in a male-dominated field is holding you back, don't worry about it. It's not as bad as you might think. And most people are just going to be thrilled that you have joined.”
Ashwini adds, “I think that this industry even gives you some of the flexibilities that maybe other industries don't have, like working from home, or from remote places, and even flexible hours.”
Elisabeth summarizes it, “If you want to do something, don't limit yourself and don’t let yourself be limited by others. If tech is what you like, just go for it. Just challenge yourself and challenge others, if that is where your passion is.”