Overcoming Gender Stereotypes: Women in Tech

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Gender inequality still prevails in many different sectors. Particularly, women to this day continue to face gender stereotyping and discrimination in industries traditionally dominated by men, such as technology and mechanical engineering.

Engineer working with circuits

Pursuing a passion, turning it into a career

The underrepresentation of women in these areas is a global issue that needs to be addressed. Nevertheless, the future does look promising.

In this exclusive interview with Youth Time, three powerful and inspiring women share their successful journeys. We will jointly discuss their role as leaders, stereotype breakers and role models. In addition to bringing out some enlightening moments, the discussion will also focus on how industry has changed for women in recent years. Society’s and their families’ perceptions of their work in “unusual” fields and how they overcame gender inequalities are also part of our conversation.

Through this piece we will also bring to you a great upcoming event known as the “WomenTech Global Conference 2020”. As we are going through a lockdown, you can discover how this offers a helping hand to get inspired or find a career opportunity.

While women remain largely underrepresented in tech jobs, we want to recognize and promote equal gender representation by highlighting their accomplishments.

Among other things, this piece emphasizes once again that a greater inclusion of women in Tech will not solely benefit gender equality, but the industry itself as well.

It is not a matter of belonging – it is a decision we all make and earn for ourselves

Kosovar Agnesa Belegu, Game Designer at Techland, currently living and working in Warsaw, Poland, was only 22 years old when she landed her first job in the tech industry.

She shares with Youth Time a particular moment that has stuck with her to this day.

Agnesa Belegu / Photo: Innovation Centre Kosovo (ICK)

It was the first meeting we had with every senior designer on our team – I remember I looked at them and thought: ‘What am I even doing here? What could I possibly have to say, that they don’t already know?’ Yet, it dawned on me, I was there. Sharing space in a room I had been told looked exactly like it did: my colleagues, men that each had at least a decade of experience over me, most were decades older than I was, and had worked on their careers for many years.

The journey of one of Kosovo’s first computer game designers has not been unaffected by gender stereotypes.

The agency video games, provided in an otherwise insulated and isolated mentality, were ground-breaking for my character, and I formed a strong belief that I had to somehow find my way to join the crucible of creating these experiences. Of course none of the characters I would play looked like me – yet the truth of it remained, it was the power to be in someone else’s shoes, to see the world through the other point of view, in a reality where the rules we know of do not apply.”

To most others, my family included, it was simply an unacceptable waste of time, especially for a girl, but that did nothing other than put fuel to the flames.

 

Breaking through borders into the other world

At least that’s how it was perceived, especially back in the early 2000s – and of course my family was not keen on allowing, or rather supporting me to do so. Yet, the world has so rapidly changed and transformed itself that I believe as true that although our mentality has not followed the same path of transformation, our choices have expanded and opened beyond our comprehension.

Belegu goes on to elaborate on women’s role in this field.


Women – especially past generations – have been told and have believed that our contribution is incomparable or too small to account for much, or simply too different to matter


I think this is changing with every passing day, as more women show up in that room, and realize it is not a matter of belonging – it is a decision we all make and earn for ourselves.

Compared to back then, she is of the opinion that the industry has now changed, and will keep changing as long as young girls and women keep showing up.

Given the power of games as a tool to enable and expand our human capacity for empathy, and that women are a vastly underrepresented group (or rather misrepresented) in games as a medium, our contribution goes beyond that of functionality or technicalities. We not only have a chance to offer a more empathetic, human-centered approach to creating these experiences, but to enrich them with the soles of our shoes – stories of the world seen through our eyes.“

Belegu, now working for one of the largest game development studios in Poland, concludes with uplifting words.

Never has it been more possible to create opportunities for ourselves – and if such a thing is not possible from wherever we stand, we can find the right support to enable us to do so. We have never been more connected as humans, never have we been stronger than now to trust in leaps of faith.

 

We have tremendous power and capabilities, we just need to learn how to unlock our potential and empower each other

When she first decided to pursue a career in mechanical engineering, Hadeel Jaradat, Facility Management Manager in Rawabi City, received a lot of discouraging statements from many people -including women.

Hadeel Jaradat / Photo: Rawabi

Some told me that this was a male-dominated field, and that I should pick a career that is more ‘appropriate’ for females. They insisted that it would be difficult for me to work in such a tough environment and that I am too weak to handle the duties of a mechanical engineer.”

Luckily, Jaradat says, she was raised by an encouraging mother.

She used to tell me that as a woman, I get to decide what my capabilities are, and that I should never allow anyone to set any limits for me. I kept these words with me all along the way while fighting my way into a career that is highly dominated by men. What empowered me the most is feeling confident. I knew that my skills and capabilities were as good, if not better, than men’s, and for that I could not accept anything less than what I wanted, desired and deserved.”

Moreover, Jaradat asserts that even the educational system was not prepared for such a step.


As one of the very few females studying mechanical engineering, I had to constantly prove that I could do specific tasks, just like my male classmates


When I tried to sign up for a car maintenance training course offered by a technical training center in preparation for a coming university course, they initially refused to sign me up because they had never had a female participating in this 19-year-old program. For them, this was a good reason to reject me.

However, the injustice she felt made Jaradat even more determined to join the course.

I imposed myself and attended the first few classes insisting that they let me register, and accepting all their conditions and rules. I had to show them that I could do what my male classmates were doing.[…] As I continued to challenge the unnecessary limitations, restrictions, traditions and low expectations, I felt that the progress I was making alone was not enough. I needed more women by my side because together, we are stronger, and we can make change happen on a larger scale.

 

I did it, and you can do it

As such, in her third her, she established a club to encourage new young women applicants to join mechanical engineering or any other field they wanted.

The results were amazing. Slowly but surely, more and more women started to sign up for mechanical engineering and other male dominated fields at my university. At that moment, I realized that there were lots of females who just needed to be empowered to make the change we wanted in our society.”

She sheds some light on the importance of having a leader who believes in women.

After I graduated, I started working with Mr. Bashar Masri, the founder of Rawabi City. He was determined to bring a new mindset of thinking that broke many stereotypes especially about recent graduates and women. […] A few years later, he appointed me as the manager of the Facility Management department “Sah”. By then, I was the only woman in a department of over 130 male employees. I was leading a major department, full of men, many of them are older than my father, and in a field in which many people thought I could not work in.”

This is how Jaradat elaborates on her experiences when asked about empowering moments.

Six years later, she is proud to have many women colleagues working with her in the department she manages.

Today, the male workers at “Sah” look at their female colleagues as their equals. They are now used to working with females in this field, and most importantly, they appreciate the unique perspective and the innovative ideas that we bring to the job.”

We have come through a very long journey as women, yet we still have a long path ahead of us. It is not an easy job to fight for our rights, but I cannot think of more fearless creatures to win this fight other than women. We have tremendous power and capabilities, we just need to learn how to unlock our potential and empower each other.”

I did it, and you can do it.

 

Our focus is global since gender diversity and diversity in tech is not a regional issue

Anna Radulovski, Founder at the WomenTech Network, the Coding Girls Foundation and Tech Family Ventures, explains the mission of this network. It aims to make a global impact and create opportunities for women and minorities at companies and startups that value, support and foster diversity and inclusion.

Anna Radulovski / Photo: Women Tech Network

During these hard times, many people are being laid off, losing their jobs; often women are the first ones to be asked to leave for unpaid vacation, and we’d like to help. Our focus is global since gender diversity and diversity in tech is not a regional issue. Our aim is to unite 100.000 women in tech with the main theme Being Human in Times of Disruption, Technology, and Innovation.

When asked about the biggest changes that she has witnessed since founding the network, she notes the following:

We observe change every day and celebrate the small and large victories of our members and partners: be it reaching the next level as a Global WomenTech Ambassador or hiring a smart and skilled female engineer they may meet at our event. We are also excited about seeing our Slack space grow every day, providing a safe space for aspiring and experienced women and minorities in tech.

But, is women’s position in technology good enough today? Radulovski’s opinion at this point starts with “Yes and No.”


it is a process, and it takes time


Some countries and cultures are more open-minded while others are still narrow-minded, believing that women’s place is in the kitchen, looking after children or doing ‘feminine’ jobs. On the other hand, we see a few role models in tech, who are excellent engineers, product developers, team leads, VPs, CEOs of tech companies, founders of start-ups.”

Moreover she notifies us of a great upcoming event that they are hosting, “WomenTech Global Conference 2020”.

In times of social isolation, crisis, and uncertainty it is more important than ever to feel supported by your family or your community. While many of our members are affected by the crisis whether financially or mentally, we see it as important as ever to give our helping hand to get inspired, connect, and find a mentor or career opportunities.

Title photo: Shutterstock

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