Attracting women to high-tech careers
The IT for SHE project in Poland encourages and trains women for digital-age careers – helping them find work in a traditionally male-dominated sector.
Only one in three employees and one in five entrepreneurs in Europe’s IT and tech industry are women, according to a 2013 EU study. Getting more girls and women interested in digital jobs helps to bridge this gender gap, while driving competitiveness, innovation and job creation in Europe.
In Poland the IT for SHE programme focuses on helping women to increase their technical abilities in areas such as programming and data management . The programme also helps them develop their ‘soft skills’ – such as by building their self-confidence and training them to be effective communicators. The programme also involves female tech role models to encourage young women to take up careers in the digital sector.
“IT is the future,” says Bianka Siwinska, executive director of the Perspektywy Educational Foundation, which runs the programme. “We want to increase the impact of women, create a new generation of female leaders and have more representative contribution to shaping IT and therefore the world.”
Ingredients for success
Four elements make up IT for SHE. The annual Women in Tech Camp holds a series of programming, mentoring and career-planning workshops over five days for 120 female IT students.
IT for SHE’s Kids in IT initiative recruits female IT student volunteers to teach coding and technology to children in small towns each year. The initiative reached 1 000 children in 2017.
And a dedicated mentoring programme brings together young women and 40 specialists from leading technology companies for coaching sessions to help them advance in high-tech careers.
The fourth, most recent element is the Perspektywy Women in Tech Summit. This is one of Europe’s biggest gathering of women in IT and tech, with the first to be held November 2018 in Warsaw.
“We give women the tools, skills, knowledge and orientation they need for the IT job market. They learn they can change the world and lead it with technology. We also create the desire to give back, to inspire children in small communities,” says Siwinska.
IT camp, mentoring and volunteering
At the Women in Tech Camp, participants take part in a range of programming-focused workshops, along with a mentoring day and a career day for personal development.
The free five-day camp draws top female IT students from Poland’s technical universities. Competition to attend is strong. Applications are made via the IT for SHE website and only the 120 best candidates receive a place.
Longer-term career support is available via the IT for SHE mentoring programme for students and graduates. Mentors are provided through one of IT for SHE’s corporate partners and can be men or women.
Applicants choose a mentor on the IT for SHE website, where they complete a short form explaining why they should be accepted. If successful, each applicant works with a single mentor over several months on areas that they jointly identify as important for the individual’s career.
The volunteering programme recruits women IT students. They go to small towns to teach programming and technology to girls and boys at their schools. Courses, which are free, aim to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, promote acceptance of women as technology experts and develop volunteers’ organisational and team-working skills. Volunteers receive training on how to run the courses and are provided with board and lodging in the towns they visit.
Growth and international outreach
The success of IT for SHE has created more demand for its programmes. The volunteering programme is set to expand to 3 000 children in 2018, Siwinska says.
And future editions of the Women in Tech Camp will include participants from Ukraine, Hungary, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany.
Unlike other parts of IT for SHE, the Women in Tech Summit is for women at all stages of their careers. The annual gathering involves around 1 000 female IT students, innovators and leaders from Europe and Asia.
“The summit presents the potential of women in technology, science and innovation,” says Siwinska. “This will help girls to build careers in these fields and contribute to a more efficient innovation ecosystem.”
The 2018 edition will include a Youth Summit of future female IT leaders and will be attended by Mariya Gabriel, the EU Commissioner for the digital economy and society.
Driving positive change
Siwinska points out that it is in the interests of business andgovernments to attract more women into STEM sectors. She adds that even in universities only 13 % of IT students are women.
“Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are the key areas for economic development, innovation and creation of a better future,” she says. “By activating women in this area, we can make it possible to meet the demand for IT workers, in Europe as well as in Poland.”
Other fields and regions benefit from better inclusion of women, Siwinska adds.
“IT generates innovation in other areas, such as medicine, ecology or sustainable social policy,” she says. “More innovation can have global knock-on effects. Driving forward development in new technologies and IT can speed up the development of the world’s poorest regions.”
IT for SHE aims to create a more empowered society through participation in IT.
“We want every woman to be able to follow the job market,” Siwinska says. “The students who develop in the programme also then pass their knowledge and support to children in Poland’s poorest areas and encourage them to seek education and work in IT.”
IT for SHE was founded by Perspektywy in 2016. The independent non-profit organisation promotes education in Poland and internationally. Present and former rectors of Polish universities and other Polish public figures involved in higher education lead the organisation.
A particular interest of Perspektywy is STEM education for women and girls. IT for SHE started as one of its projects in this area.
“At the beginning, we just organised an IT boot camp – now the Women in Tech Camp – for 120 female students and had only two business partners,” Siwinska says. “We quickly saw that more could be done in this area.”
Perspektywy used its resources to expand IT for She to include the mentoring and volunteer programmes. The project developed a wider remit to encourage more children and women to study IT and new technologies.
More business partners have joined the programme. Seven companies are now involved – Citi Handlowy, Ericsson, Goldman Sachs, Google, Intel, Procter & Gamble, and Samsung.
The Coalition for Polish Innovation – an academic-business partnership promoting innovation-friendly conditions in Poland – also takes part.
“They are committed to supporting talented female students,” Siwinska says.
As well as providing specialists for the mentoring and volunteering events, the companies jointly created the programme for the 2017 Women in Tech Camp.
“Businesses that usual compete with each other are cooperating on this programme to act for the common good,” Siwinska says.
In 2017, IT for SHE won the EU Digital Skills Award in the Digital Skills for Women and Girls category. It is now expanding its support to women from other countries.
IT for SHE: www.itforshe.pl/en