Women in IT area in Chile: What is left to do?

Last year the name of engineer Barbarita Lara resonated in the media. She was the first Chilean to be included in the list of innovators under the age of 35 of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), called “MIT Technology Review”. Annually, this institution selects the best creators, innovators and researchers from all over the world.

Her idea sounds simple, but it’s not what it looks like. He created the Emergency Information System (SiE). It is a mechanism that receives information on the cell phone when network communications fail in a natural disaster, such as earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. Barbarita Lara told Emol.com that her idea was born precisely because of the aftermath of the 27/F earthquake.

However, for this achievement, Barbarita overcame the barrier and prejudice that every woman lives when entering a computer career: The Gender Gap. “All this injustice that is lived by being belittled for studying, in quotes, careers that are not of them, which are careers of ‘man’. That’s a lie,” she said in an interview.

And he’s quite right. According to research by Microsoft Chile, Fundación Por Una Carrera and consultant Cliodynamics, regarding the number of women enrolled in computer careers, 2018 was the year with the lowest female participation. Of the 54,461 women enrolled in higher education, “only 8.9% of those who chose these careers by graduating from high school were women, the lowest figure in the last 5 years,” the research says.

When reviewing the admissions and graduations, in all careers, from Computer and Informatic Technician, to Civil Engineering, about 90% of them is made up of men. In Tecnova we will explore the main reasons for these gaps and what we would do to eliminate them. It should be noted that in Tecnova we are equating this gap, with 45% of its female collaborators, among which are, assistant managers, project managers, engineers, programmers, administrative and sales.


Reasons that increase the gender gap of women in computer science

The situation is worrying due to the integration of women into areas where they have historically been excluded. In the face of this, there are three reasons why women’s presence in computer science is invisible

  • Male world: Chile is one of five Oecd countries with the greatest differences in gender pay. According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), per ordinary hour, women in Chile earn 10.8% less than men. In addition, female unemployment reached 8.2% in the March-May 2019 quarter, the highest in 12 years just as women’s participation was 49.8%, the highest figure since there is registration. However, there is still room to improve the gaps in management positions (it is only 13% of women) and to provide facilities to pregnant women, who are affected the most by unemployment. Therefore, there is still a labor structure where man prevails. • Early education and training: We have always been told, wrongly, that mathematics, economics or any other science would be more “male” subjects. Stereotypical claims such as “women don’t know logic,” “they’re bad at math,” “they’re better in more social areas, ” have undermined this misconception.

This is confirmed by the Chilean Association of Information Technology Companies (ACTI), for which female participation in IT is close to 5%. While in the US, it is between 20% and 25%.

In the case of Chile, where statistics say there will be a deficit of 31% of IT professionals, a figure that would reach 19,000 vacancies, there is still a gender gap in the 2018 undergraduate enrollment in Technology of 75% in women’s detriment.

So, if, from early training, one subject is catalogued in detriment of another based on gender, how can there be no barriers?

  • Family and patriarchal/male culture: For BBC Mundo, it factors the so-called brogrammer culture (mixture between brother and grammer, last part of the word “programador” in English), referring to the “male domination, unwelcoming and even aggressive with which the field of computing is perceived”. This favors the beliefs of women who would feel in the minority, outsiders and incapable. When history shows otherwise, as was the case with actress Hedy Lamarr, inventor of Wi-Fi, or Grace Hopper, who invented the first programming language, COBOL.


How do we turn it around?

In Chile, initiatives are already in place to change this scenario. Even from early training. For example, Microsoft this year promoted the “Digigirlz”, a community that seeks to encourage girls and young people to pursue careers in STEM areas. To do this, they invited girls of 5th, 6th and 7th basic schools of the commune of Recoleta to share with organizations and women protagonists of the Chilean IT industry, such as Barbarita Lara herself.

Also this year, for a joint work of the Ministry of Science and Women, the SAGA (STEM and Gender Advancement) program was implemented. A UNESCO project that “contributes to the promotion of women and girls in STEM, supporting key stakeholders in the design and implementation of CTI policies for gender equality”.

But it’s not just a private company’s role to encourage an inclusive approach to IT careers. It is in early education that the gender roles and stereotypes of “the career for men, the career for women” must be abandoned.

In Tecnova almost half of our collaborators are women, who contribute their knowledge and commitment every day, and we know of their great contribution in the world of computer science.