‘Miss’ing tech­nol­ogy

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - Marika Az­zopardi

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/

Dash and Dot Robots

Vanessa Vella

Ber­nine Caru­ana

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