The IT market demands more participation from female professionals

The percentage of women choosing degree programs related to Information Systems accounts for 15-20% of the student population.

Publicada el 8 de febrero de 2018

For the last few years, the IT sector has been established in our country with a steady growth, which has expanded its professional scope. At present, there are more than 100 profiles in this field which, according to estimations, will represent 1.4 million jobs in Argentina by 2020.

In spite of this optimistic horizon, women represent merely 25 percent of the technological sector. Although there has been a slight increase in the last few years, this statistic is not expected to change in the short term. On average, only 15 to 20% graduate from Information Systems-related programs, depending on the University and, according to the Ministry of Education, only 7 out of 100 women who started a program in the last two years chose the Systems area.

Something similar is observed in the Information Systems Engineering program at UTN Buenos Aires, where women currently account for 20% of the student population. “The program does not make differences between men and women in terms of their activities, capabilities or skills in their studies, practice or during their professional life, –said Eng. Andrés Bursztyn, Head of this Department-. The professionals are expected to solve problems using information technology and Information Systems Engineering competences, so in this program, not only don’t we make any distinctions in terms of gender but we also foster equality. There are fewer women than men in the program and that replicates in the professional sector, but it is not as a result of employment recruiters making differences or discriminating against them.”

The Director acknowledges that there are professional fields in the sector with a majority of women: “perhaps there is a trend of more female presence in analysis, which may be functional, related to testing or to QA (quality assurance). But this responds to social, non-technical aspects, since they are profiles for which the traits taken into account are those facilitating the creation of work teams and communication. That is, professionals with good analytical capacity, good interpersonal skills and a marked sensitivity to lead Information Systems projects, -Bursztyn explains-. These are not characteristics exclusively owned by women, but employers are mainly choosing women for these profiles.”

In this sense, Eng. María Laura Orfanó, UTNBA graduate, technological entrepreneur and businesswoman, stated that “in general terms, in the last few years there has been a growing number of women in the field, higher than 15 or 20 years ago, when we started working. Women are leaning towards team leadership, where human contact is more prominent, because women possess both hard and soft skills.”

Orfanó, founder and CEO of the ecommerce business Simbel, said that two years ago there were mostly men in her company. “I decided to include more women in multidisciplinary teams. From my experience, women have better communication skills, and a very good analytical capacity, and I think we are naturally more prepared for human relations. We have the ability to lead, we have multi-tasking skills and we can find solutions. We are anthropologically and culturally used to solving problems, and to do more than one task at a time. We are increasingly being chosen due to those skills,” she said to conclude.

Eng. Valeria Viva, technological graduate and entrepreneur, director of the Ser 2.0 agency, said there is some improvement, though gradual, in the percentage of women in the information sector: “It is growing because this problem is being detected and addressed. There is a need for gender perspective and innovation in the technology area. One of the strongest reasons is the limited number of women involved, not only as product consumers, but as key agents in the design and development of solutions. Women should become increasingly aware that each of us is a change agent. We make up 50% of the population; it doesn’t seem right that we should be 25% of an industry that needs human capital and diversity.” In this sense, Viva stressed that “there are many initiatives to include women in the Systems area and fortunately there are many women and men working on this.”


The business sector

Both Organó and Viva agreed that, although there are more women working in the technology sector worldwide and that there are organizations and programs aimed at helping more women to work in the technology sector and even to establish their own companies (particularly in the start up ecosystem), at a local level, there are few women starting technology companies.

“At present, only 7 percent of technology businesses are run by women. In a growing market, which generates millions of dollars, it is a pity that women should have so little participation. In addition, the gap is also observed in those supporting these initiatives, since 7 out of 100 angel investors in the technological world are women,” Viva pointed out.

Orfanó added that “there is an important generation change which makes more women lean towards business in general, not only in technology companies. There are many technology companies created by non-technological profiles, more business-oriented, and that is one of the aspects being addressed in the degree program, in particular, by including entrepreneurship and business classes.”


More education for more inclusion

One of the most ambitious initiatives created to address the increasing demand for information systems workers is the 111,000 Plan [Plan 111 mil], co-managed by the Ministry of Production, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor, which seeks to train 100,000 programmers, 10,000 engineers or degree holders in the area of Systems and Information and 1,000 technological entrepreneurs in a period of 4 years.

Carlos Pallotti, Technological and Productive Services Undersecretary of the Argentine Ministry of Production, who is in charge of the program, affirmed: “there is an unmet demand for qualified people in the knowledge economy and, in particular, in the software sector, which may rapidly increase every year but it doesn’t due to the lack of enough qualified personnel.”

Pallotti explained that “between 20 and 25 percent of the student population in the information systems programs is made up of women and this is an absolutely low percentage. For various reasons, women departed the information systems undergraduate programs. Our goal is to change this situation: we would like to have a larger female population and for that reason we have set up round table meetings for this issue, seeking help from women who are currently working in the field, either in the private sector, the academia, or the public sector, in order to determine which are the factors that would cause more women to get involved. We believe that if we are able to get them involved in this one-year training on programming, we would also be making an impact on the undergraduate programs, a level we are even more interested, although not faster.”

As a result of the initiatives proposed by the Gender Panel (composed, among others, by Valeria Viva), women account for 34% of those registered in the Plan 111,000. Half of them are between 26 and 40 years old. “They are specific initiatives, such as the invitation by the young women who are studying of a fellow or friend who may also be interested. Or by making campaigns directly targeted at women, presenting female systems programmer engineers, to show that they can do it, –Pallotti said-. We made a video showing we asked people (especially, young) if they know any girl who programs, and they say they don’t, that it is a men activity. After that, we showed a lot of girls who are working in the area in different companies. Another proposal consists of calling men and women for talks given in the framework of the program so that they can tell the good or the bad things involving this activity. All these initiatives are resulting in an average of one out of three women studying computing instead of 1 out of five. We hope that, next year, we get close to one to one.”

Breaking molds

The interviewees agree on the fact that stereotypes strongly intervene at the time of choosing a degree program. “It is a cultural issue. You choose a career during adolescence, and you do not think which career will pay more but which one you will enjoy most. The nerd stereotype, alone and isolated, is not a success stereotype, let alone for a woman. It is a stereotype of success at work but not a social success stereotype -thinks Viva-. I think that there is a need to show the range of possibilities of being a Systems professional, because not only is it about programming but also designing solutions, creating, researching. Training in these areas means getting involved in technology and systems which will become more and more relevant in a near future.”

“For the collective conscience, the female gender is associated to social activities or social sciences. That’s what we should demystify; there are many women who study computing programs, who are very successful Systems engineers or licenciadas and that live a better or equal life as any of the other professions. Furthermore, at present, job quality in the sector makes it more attractive because more companies of the area are working with a more flexible schedule, or the possibility to work from home once a week. And it is a sort of job that allows them to be more creative, because there is a need to find innovating solutions, -added Pallotti-. Women who study Systems are not in front of the PC with thick-frame eyeglasses. That is a false stereotype associated to certain tv or movie characters which does not favor us because those who study hard sciences are considered fool and nerds and they are men. But there are young women who have an excellent time, good jobs and good salaries.”

In that sense, Bursztyn stated that “in the School we are striving to improve the marketing of Engineering and, in terms of public opinion, softening it. For that purpose, it is important to communicate the multiple professional activities, and to show how engineering intervenes in most of the processes and products surrounding us. Engineering is everywhere. There is engineering in everything.

The Head of the Systems Information Department informed that “the School welcomes men and women equally, from its facilities to its academic program. Scheduling allows students to work and study, sports are proposed for both sexes and a doctor is offered so that they can receive medical attention in the same place where they study. That is how equality for students is guaranteed, under every aspect.”

To conclude, María Laura Orfanó invited the young women who would like to study Engineering to actually do it: “Many profiles that are necessary, and that require different kinds of knowledge and skills have been opened. And women in many aspects can make the difference, give another viewpoint and contribute with other solutions.”

Sorority: new female engineers care about bridging the gender gap

María Celeste Medina, graduate from this School, was awarded the Change Agent ABIE Award by the Anita Borg Institute of Technology, a worldwide renowned entity focused on the issue of women in technology, based in Palo Alto, California, United States.

Celeste was acknowledged for her work as co-founder and CEO of Ada IT, a company for the development and testing of software, as well as staffing and recruiting of IT profiles focused on the labor insertion of women. Ada IT seeks to bridge the gender gap in technology and to empower women by generating opportunities for them.

The Change Agent Award is awarded to outstanding women around the world who do not live in the United States (with emphasis in developing countries) and who have created opportunities for women and girls in the technology area. “Celeste was acknowledged for her work in the development and testing of software focused on the labor insertion of women,” members from the organization pointed out.

Another Project of young professionals aimed to promote computing careers is “Girls in Technology”, an organization founded by Melina Masnatta, Sofía Contreras, Mariana Varela and Carolina Hadad, which seeks to bridge the gender gap in technology by motivating, maximizing and increasing knowledge and enthusiasm of young women in these areas.

“You cannot be what you cannot see. There are many preconceptions and stereotypes about what a programmer is and does. The best way to defeat them is for girls to experience what it is to study and work in technology. Technology is a way to take an active role and have an influence on the reality surrounding us, improving it. From “Girls in technology”, we want adolescents to put hand at work and program an application that solves a social problem they encounter in their everyday life. We want them to become not only users but creators of technology,” summed up Mariana Varela.

The phenomenon in figures

  • On average, women earn 27% less than men and belong to the majority earning lower incomes, according to data obtained from INDEC’s Income Evolution Distribution of the first quarter of this year.
  • In 2016 and 2017, there were 7.000 job openings in the area and 5.000 were left vacant, according to a survey performed by the Observatorio Permanente de la Industria del Software y Servicios Informáticos (OPSSI) [Permanent Observatory of the Software and Computing Services Industry] of the Cámara de la Industria Argentina del Software (CESSI) [Chamber of the Argentine Industry of Software].
  • In 2020, there will be more than 1.4 million technology-related jobs and it is projected that there will be only a total of 29% of graduates to cover that quota.
  • Technology-related degree programs are one of the major sources of economic development at present. Women in these areas earn 33% more than in other areas.
  • A report by PNUD showed that in Argentina, the few women occupying management positions have higher qualifications than their male peers.
  • According to the Argentine Ministry of Education, in the last two years only 7% of women chose to start Computing and Information Systems degree programs.
  • UTN Buenos Aires women account for 20% of the student population, although 50 percent of the best averages recorded in the last year corresponds to female students. The preferred degree programs chosen by women are Information Systems Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Textile Engineering.