When Vanessa Vella and Bernine Caruana joined their Software Development course at the University of Malta, just a few short years ago, they were stunned to find that out of a class of 36 students, only six were female. And out of all the lecturers within the Maths & Physics departments, only one was female. They were soon to find, that contrary to their expectations, the IT sector in Malta seems to attract a predominantly male participation. In fact, the most recent statistics indicate that 83.9% of people employed in the IT sector in Malta, are male.
This knowledge and several other factors besides, irked them both and set the wheels turning towards the concept which brought about the creation of MissinTech. "We wanted to contribute in some small way to encourage more girls to enter the IT sector, as we have done ourselves. We have both been successful in finding employment with CS Technologies International, a local company where women are a strong asset, forming a good 35 % of the total workforce. In a country where women are not attracted to this sector of specialisation, this percentage is pretty encouraging. However, the balance is still widely uneven. Reluctantly it is also true that in certain workplaces, (not this one), there is a problem linked to gender discrimination on the job, partly because males are not used to working with females in this sector and are thus unaware of female strengths and assets in this regard."
The two 20-year-olds who have both trained as software developers, met at university. Vanessa became fascinated by computers at a young age, whilst Bernine always had the intention of working in IT, branching out to Software Development along the way. Together they participated in the 2015 competition 'The Million Dollar Idea' organised by ICTSA. "This event was basically what further ignited the idea behind MissinTech. During the competition there were nine groups of not more than four participants each. Only three were female, and we were two of them. Deborah Webster who was one of the mentors at the event, pointed out this lack of female participation and we both felt strongly about her comments. Then when we met Andy Linnas as part of the 'Take Off' business incubator, he urged us on. He helped us develop our idea and we met loads of people via whom we began to raise the awareness we felt was needed to right the gender imbalance. By March 2015' we were ready to embark in this new project."
The duo aims to organise workshops for young females attending the first two years of senior school, a task which will be amply assisted by specially created robots that will animate events. Bernine says, "We want to encourage young women to join the ranks. IT is simply not well explained as a career choice, there are no specific career outlets, none that are tangibly expanded upon at this stage in career consideration. The options it allows are thus not understood. Thus MissinTech shall be targeting also career guidance teachers to have them raise awareness of the potential of IT training."
Vanessa continues, "Yes indeed IT is a wonderful area of expertise for females and provides plenty of opportunities especially to those who want to work from home and aim to enjoy flexitime when they have a family. Software development is just one aspect of IT, there are graphic or web designers, teachers, technicians, business analysts, and the list goes on. IT is practically involved in every industry, from accountancy to medicine."
IT vacancy ads seem to attract only males because apparently the technical aspect of the training involved before and on the job seems to put women off. Bernine and Vanessa blame this on the conceptual association with engineering, another typically male sector. And, she says, this does not happen only in Malta. I get to meet the French woman Séverine Scherpenseel , a La Redoute employee who manages the team behind the company's IT web platform. Ms Scherpenseel admits that gender imbalance where IT employment is involved, happens also in France, and she hints that it might be even more unbalanced than in Malta.
"My job is to manage the team in charge of site development and support. In France, within the fashion company I work with, only 10% of the IT personnel is female, even while the company has a 70% female workforce." She explains that she stepped into IT via the usual route, inspired by sciences at school. Choosing to study IT Systems in 2003 when she was 18, she did so because to her mind, it seemed to be the way forward, where science and the internet were pretty exciting spheres, pretty well combined.
"I feel part of the fashion world, since La Redoute is an international fashion catalogue. We sell beautiful products and need to inform and attract customers. I work shoulder to shoulder with stylists and producers, designers and innovators. Yet I support the technical part of the company with technical decisions being part and parcel of every day's work. But of course, I need to know what customers want and expect, what will make the fashionistas stop to attention and how to use the web to create more business. I would not do anything else, and eventually when I have my own family, I know IT will prove to be an invaluable ally in my life."
For more information about MissinTech, look up the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MissInTech/
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