“I think it’s very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: computing is too important to be left to men.” While these words by Karen Spärck Jones, Professor of the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, may seem controversial, when looking at the skills women have, such as the “IT women”, I have an impression that her words could motivate quite a few women. So, let’s see how it really is in IT.
In thousands of applications, and hundreds of hours talking with candidates and employees, I still have the impression that I come across too few women. The world of IT is a kind of mythical land, full of obscure notions, specific humour, and working “underground”. We encounter these stereotypes every day. And yes… I also joke about them quite often (and I’m not going to stop), but I’m in a privileged position as I am inside this environment, and I know that it’s neither as scary nor as specific as it may appear. Let’s start from the beginning, i.e. the statistics.
About 30% of people employed in IT are women. It is estimated that this number will rise to 40% in the upcoming years. It sounds like progress, but… it’s still insufficient. We can ask – why is it like that? The answer is quite clear and I think nobody will be surprised – the myth that is to blame for all this is that the world of IT is reserved for men, where high competencies matter. The notion “the men’s world” implies that young people may not have sufficient skills, and to make matters worse, that they will never catch up with their workmates. Nothing could be further from the truth. The greatest evidence of this is the fact that the first programmer in the world was a woman – Ada Lovelace! If she was able to conquer the world of IT then you are too.
The objective of this article is to show that the world of IT is not just programmers, but also the roles that the IT branch could not exist without, and that a great deal of people may not be aware of. Some of us do not have to deal with coding on a daily basis, but… we do other things that are extremely important and indispensable for further work. As you probably know, any of these roles can be performed by women ?
When talking with candidates for Stepwise, I paid attention to quite a frequent question, in fact, a statement: “You don’t have many women in your company, do you?” My reply always surprises candidates when I tell them that 35% of our team are women. I then add that they are not only programmers, but also other positions that are, or can be, part of IT, and which are often forgotten. UX/UI Designer, Graphic Designer, Employer Branding Specialist, Project Manager and Data Science Engineer – these positions are held by women at our company, and I can’t imagine that anyone else could do this job better.
If you are wondering whether the IT branch is for you, I hope we can help dispel your doubts. I would like to extend to you a brief insight into the team of girls at Stepwise, as well as my story as one who entered the IT branch not intending to.
Almost a year and a half ago, I was considering changing my job when I encountered an offer by Software House. A red light immediately lit in my head: “Stop. The IT branch”. Although this offer was strictly connected with the HR department, I had thoughts like: “you don’t know this branch”, “this branch is tough”, “specific people”, “a man’s world”, and my personal cherry on the cake: “you think that you will manage?” Fortunately, the answer to the last doubt was: “If not me, then who? Let’s try”. And I sent my application. During the recruitment process I felt that I was stepping outside my comfort zone (the finance branch), but at the same time that this was a world for me. Unfortunately, I know that not every woman in my place would have sent in the application. According to studies, the lack of self-confidence is the largest obstacle in conquering the world of IT. Who of you didn’t hear at school that girls do worse in subjects like mathematics or physics? I bet, most of you. These myths instilled from our earliest years block us in our adulthood. I was lucky that I was the best at mathematics in my class, which may have helped me build my self-confidence in applying to Stepwise (who knows?). Summing up, here I am – HR Manager who has already heard many times that she is not “an ordinary HR type”. Honestly? This is probably one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever heard, and I know that the IT branch has helped me in that ? Did I know everything from the very beginning? No! Do I know everything now? All the more, no! Time passes, and in the middle of a technical discussion I decide to excuse myself, and this is totally ok. Work in IT does not mean that we have to know everything. It is important that we strive for becoming specialists in our area.
At Stepwise I cooperate with extremely gifted girls whose projects are praised by our customers and team. This proves that a woman in IT is an indispensable part of this branch, which is continuously developing and looking for new specialists.
I asked a few of these girls questions regarding their experiences, what they have learnt, and what lessons they have drawn from IT (and Stepwise). I think that each of these stories can be a positive inspiration for young girls who would like to start their professional career. Off we go!
There are women who are afraid to enter the IT branch. The question is: Why the interest in this branch?
- “I got interested in UX Design while studying Product Design. I wanted to create modern digital products, I was particularly keen on mobile applications. My entry into IT was very smooth and natural. During my studies, I did an internship as a UX Designer in order to see if I liked this path. I liked it very much and having finished my internship, I began work at Stepwise :)” – Olga Mielkina, UX/UI Designer
- “I think that this is a very interesting and satisfying job for so–called “scientific minds”. It requires analysing, logical thinking, quick searching, and fast learning.” – Agnieszka Baumann, Flutter Developer
- “In the secondary school graduation class I won an internship at the GovTech Centre of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, a project established by the Prime Minister to extend the level of digitalisation in Poland. It deals with organising hackathons (e.g. for the Polish Development Fund), robotics classes for students, and competitions that develop a passion in teenagers for the world of IT and digitalisation. I did my internship in the communication department. It was then that I realised I could do something I wanted (Social Media) and combine it with the world of IT.” – Julia Senator Kaczprzak, Employer Branding Assistant
So, we already know where women’s interest in this branch can come from, but what do you think is the best side of the technological sector?
- ”The possibility of everyday cooperation with wise and interesting people, a nice and progressive environment, high culture at work (people treat each other with respect), ease in finding a job, high earnings, and cooperation with foreign customers in English.” – Olga
- ”I think that the best things are continuous development of your skills as well as logical thinking and drawing conclusions, which leads to solving issues.” – Agnieszka
- ”The most interesting things are people’s reactions to the fact that I work in IT. For some this is a mysterious branch, unavailable to lesser mortals due to the stereotypes.” – Julia
Julia, you mentioned “a mysterious and unavailable branch” – is there anything that makes it especially unique?
- ”I think the deep IT stereotyping. For the older generation, these are “people sitting in front of computers all day long”, for middle-aged people, “this is something unavailable, hard to learn”, for teenagers, “something profitable for introverts hidden away all day long without girls”, and for the youngest, “hacking”. I haven’t encountered such deeply rooted stereotypes in any other branch.”
For young people looking for a professional path, personal development is a very important issue. We can’t omit the question: How can women develop when working for IT customers?
- ”When working for customers, we can primarily develop in terms of communication. Cooperation with customers teaches us lots of things (e.g. how to talk using business values for customers). We constantly have very interesting projects that e.g. Stepwise receives. Besides, the IT branch gives job opportunities to customers from different countries and cultures, which I personally treat as a big asset and the possibility for development.” – Olga
Many women are of the opinion that to be able to learn new things, you need to spend a lot of years in a given branch. This is not true. The dynamics of work in the IT branch is so high that we can gain a great deal of knowledge after a few months of work with customers, as exemplified by Zuza and Julia, who have been cooperating with us for a few months.
Girls, what have you learned at Stepwise?
- ”In practice, designing applications and websites is quite different to that at university or what we know in theory. When we work with real customers, their expectations aren’t always strictly connected with the entire project process, and when a project is implemented, the designer’s imagination needs to slow down a bit.” – Zuzanna Chmura, UX/UI Designer
- ”The sky is the limit. The kind of a person you are, your passion, competencies and experience matter, rather than age and higher education.” – Julia
Despite the fact that women can learn a lot in a short time, e.g. from their workmates, there are a lot stereotypes saying that women do not fit in the IT branch. Do you think that the IT branch is for women?
- ”I can’t see why the IT branch isn’t for women. It’s rather a matter of character. Most work in IT is of a technical nature, and this depends on a person’s preferences. I think that the IT branch is for both women and men. Recently more and more girls have been appearing in the IT branch, which is exciting. For example, there are a lot of women in the area of design and product management, but in programming men still prevail.” – Olga
- ”Yes, I think that the fact you are a woman isn’t an obstacle to doing what men do in the IT branch.” – Zuza
As Olga mentioned, in programming, men still prevail, but there are exceptions, as in the case of Agnieszka, who works as a Flutter Developer. Agnieszka, what would you recommend to people who would like to follow a path similar to yours?
- ”My advice is to set practical tasks with an increasing level of difficulty. Instead of acquiring knowledge passively, you should focus on programming and solving issues yourself, and if need be, ask questions on thematic forums”
We already know that the IT branch is open to women, and that the girls’ experiences show it’s worth trying and developing our skills. I would like you to answer one important question: What’s best in working in an environment of mainly male programmers?
- ”I really like that male programmers are very technical and consistent. It’s easy to cooperate with the majority of programmers, apart from situations where they don’t want to implement something that is in the design because they don’t feel like working too much 😀 A plus is that male and female programmers are constantly developing and learning new technologies and approaches. This is very motivating for me” – Olga
- ”That you can learn a lot of technical things while not being a strictly technical person.” – Zuza
- ”The inside jokes and sense of humour. The benefits are also cool” – Julia
- ”Inspiring discussions about programming and new technologies.” – Aga
I can tell you that I wouldn’t change this branch for any other. Studies show that women appreciate a mainly positive atmosphere and good working conditions in this “mysterious” branch, which I definitely confirm. Knowledge sharing sprinkled with an interesting sense of humour is absolutely an atmosphere that is worth everything.
I hope that this information can help you overcome your fear of entering the world of IT. If you are not sure which path to choose or whether a given position is for you, remember that it’s always worth writing to a person who already has a similar experience. If you don’t get a reply, you lose nothing, but if your message turns into a discussion, you can benefit a lot ?
I’d like to finish this article with a quote by Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook: “The word ‘female,’ when inserted in front of something, is always with a note of surprise. Female COO, female pilot, female surgeon — as if the gender implies surprise … One day there won’t be female leaders. There will just be leaders.”and this is what I wish us all 😉