Women in the technology industry: making the path as they go
The number of women in the technology industry has increased significantly in recent years. However, inequality is still present, especially in high-responsibility positions. The reasons behind these data are multiple, from the lower number of female students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees to the famous glass ceiling.
Education: the first step
According to the study Women in the Digital Era 2022, only 3 out of 10 women study any STEM degree worldwide. Despite the progressive increase in recent years, the difference is still very significant and there are many varied reasons for it. Gender stereotypes, external influences or the different educational approaches from an early age are some of them, as this and other studies have shown recently.
Begoña Villamor, manager of the Business Analytics and Big Data department at Quistor, has been working in the technology sector for more than 20 years. She feels fortunate to have been able to study computer engineering in the 1990s because “I didn’t feel limited by my environment,” although she recognizes that this was not the usual. “There were around 10 women in my class. In the other faculties (economics, philology…), there were many more.” This contrasts with the experience of Pilar Cobos, junior consultant in the same department, who finished her mathematics degree in 2018. “One thing that came up at graduation is that we were 60% women. I’ve been lucky because now it’s more normalized.”.
In the case of Rocío Castillo, now in the functional part of Quistor, she was able to experience this evolution personally. She began studying computer engineering 20 years ago, had to leave for family reasons and is now in her final year. “I’ve noticed the difference between the two times. It has become less difficult to understand why a woman is studying engineering. When I entered the first time, everyone would ask me “why are you here?” That doesn’t happen to me anymore.”
Another cause for this lower interest seems to be related to the lack of female references historically. Ada Lovelace, who developed the first logarithm in the 19th century, marked the path of programmers and is one of the few women known in this field. For Begoña, “the problem is not that there are no references, but that they are hidden, they have no visibility” although she recognizes that, in her case, “I did not choose the career with distant references but close to what I liked.” All of them, however, agree that the environment is key in making this type of decision. In Rocío’s words, “education in the family does a lot. It’s what makes equality. At home I was always told to do what made me happy.”
More women, but not in all positions
The percentage of women’s participation in the technology industry has risen significantly over the past two decades and is now at 24% globally, with an increasing tendency every year. Nevertheless, this drops drastically to 7% for top-level positions. “In decision-making positions, I still meet only men. I haven’t seen any difference in recent years in these positions in the circle I have access to, although I do see many more women in companies,” Begoña admits.
According to UNESCO, the causes are very diverse, but the balance of family and work is at the center of the debate, even when exceptions are increasingly common. In her experience, Begoña continues to see that “it is usually women who ask for shorter working hours. And then that means lower wages because, although you are paid the same per hour, if you work fewer hours, you receive a lower salary”. This also has an impact on internal promotion in companies. The same study points out that both men and women have the same ambition to progress in their professional careers, but the reality shows that men are 88 times more likely to reach positions of responsibility. “Although there is a social evolution, I think these changes are very slow because they have to be reflected in the education of all families, it will take several generations.”
Even so, in the work environment, gender discrimination is becoming less frequent. “I have never noticed a difference, I have always felt supported by everyone”, “I have always noticed that I was valued for my worth”, they recognize. Although in Begoña’s case, she did perceive a certain disparity a few years ago. “When I was looking for my first job, the only thing I noticed was that I was only offered teaching jobs, not IT jobs.”
To try to reduce this gap, there are numerous inclusion programs for women in technology companies. One of them is Reinventa Tech, organized by Oracle Women Leadership, which will have its second edition in 2023. This program aims to train unemployed women in the field of new technologies through official training and certification of new skills, seeking to have a direct impact on their employability. In the first edition, 20 women were trained in eight different disciplines. Quistor participated as one of the collaborating companies and will do the same again this year. Thanks to this initiative, women like Alejandra Gilabert had the opportunity to enter, in this case joining Begoña’s team.
The availability of new technologies is, on the other hand, another resource that facilitates equal opportunities for everyone today, thanks to the access to all types of information. For Rocío, this has been fundamental because “the Internet has done a lot when it comes to training. Any doubt I have, I look it up in forums or anywhere, before there was no such thing. It’s an important tool.”
With the growth of the sector, Pilar is sure that she would encourage all of those who are planning to study technology because they are “perfectly capable” and “right now finding a job in the technology sector for a woman is not difficult.” It used to be less common, but now she works surrounded by many female colleagues. “I thought I was coming to a man’s world, but I found mostly women. And that’s already happening in many companies.” Begoña, on her side, considers that maybe there is a lack of information about the possible job opportunities of each degree so, when that knowledge is available, “if that’s what you like, do that degree, even if it seems more difficult.”
Without a doubt, there has been a remarkable evolution in recent years, but still not enough. The goal is to both equalize these numbers as soon as possible and that someday it will not even be necessary to highlight the presence of women in the technology industry, especially in high-level positions in companies. There is still a long way to go.