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sec4dev 2021 Recap – Women in IT: We are no Aliens!

In the pioneering days of information technology, women played an essential role – well-known examples are Ada Lovelace, who developed an algorithm and is considered the first female programmer ever, or Dorothy Vaughan, whose work contributed significantly to the success of the U.S. space program. Over the course of time, however, the proportion of women changed significantly; today, women are heavily underrepresented in this industry, also in Austria.

Why this situation needs to be changed urgently, how this might be done, and what opportunities women have to discuss their situation – those were the topics of a full-length session at the sec4dev Conference & Bootcamp 2021. Entitled “Women in ICT – We are no Aliens!“, the session convened numerous inspiring women who shared their success stories and the challenges they had to master – including Tanya Janca (author, and founder of We Hack Purple), Adela Mehic-Dzanic (Female Tech Leaders), Alyssa Miller (lawyer, hacker, and security leader at In-Security), and Hannah Wundsam (CEO Austrian Startups). Statements such as “we couldn’t find a woman to give a talk” can thus be clearly refuted.

We have summarized the evening’s most important tips and insights for you.

We can do it!

First of all, there is a distinct silver lining on the horizon. The situation has improved noticeably over the last ten years, and in countries such as the Balkan states the proportion of women in IT is already very high. Also, there are numerous initiatives and opportunities to attract more girls and women to IT and to exchange ideas with like-minded women. Numerous training programs by and for women also offer exciting prospects. Here, the experts emphasized the great potential of networks and how important it is to be proactive and ask for guidance and help when it comes to networking and mentoring. Mentoring has the advantage to be incredibly enriching for both sides, often providing new perspectives. Further keys to success are: having one’s finger on the pulse of time, being open to new things, follow your own interests in IT, not letting yourself be demotivated by setbacks, and taking responsibility for your own career. Summarized in Tanya Janca‘s words: “We can do it!”

For almost every problem there is a solution.

Women are still at a disadvantage when applying for jobs in the IT sector, resp. men are usually favored. This so-called “hiring bias” is well-researched, and we know that executives often unconsciously hire candidates who are like them in one way or another. To break this pattern, we need more diversity (and more women), amongst others at the management level.

Our experts’ tip: Women should not be afraid to defy existing role pictures, set goals for themselves, and consistently pursue those goals. That sounds easier than it is. Having strong networks and mentors to rely on offers encouragement. Besides, the importance of female role models cannot be emphasized enough: They show other women that it is possible to be successful in IT, take on leadership positions, and change the status quo.

Being a woman in IT – It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

Diversity is a game changer on many levels: due to various socializations and individual experiences, people view problems differently. Diversely structured teams – in IT this means among other things teams with a balanced gender ratio – therefore enable a broad awareness of problems and diverse solution strategies, which is a great advantage for any company.

In some situations, women can also take advantage of existing “prejudices” – in social engineering simulations, for instance, they often reach their goal faster than male colleagues since women are not usually perceived as a threat.

Our experts also agree that the controversial female quota is an opportunity that women can actively use: the quota has, to some extent, opened previously closed doors – now it’s up to take the opportunity in the desired IT career field and show that IT is no longer a male domain.

Further Information

Networks & Initiatives: We would like to thank the networks of women in IT who supported this session, who are campaigning for more women in IT, putting role models in the spotlight and empowering the ever-growing number of women in IT.

Vösi WomenInICTFemale CodersWomentechmakersWeHackPurple#TheNewITGirlsDigitalCity.Wien Frauen in der IT

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Further reading & recommended movies:

  • Caroline Criado-Perez: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (Harry N. Abrams, 2021)
  • Margot Lee Shetterly: Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2016)
  • Hidden Figures (2016; directed by Theodore Melfi)