March 7, 2017

‘The only woman in the electrical engineering department’ – one woman’s experience in tech

By ITU News

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, ITU News is running a special series of blog posts on women in information and communication technologies (ICTs). All week, we’re featuring stories about women in tech and global programmes to accelerate the pace of progress for gender equality in ICTs.

Karina Ospina has worked at some of the world’s top technology companies, building up an impressive CV.

First, she worked as a research and development engineer, then a datacenter pre-sales engineer in her native Colombia before becoming an electrical project engineer in Brazil. Currently, she’s an innovation engineer in Portugal.

“I decided to study engineering to follow my passion for innovation and technology, but mainly because in my country, the engineers have more probability to succeed,” Ms Ospina told ITU News. Though successful, her career path has been somewhat lonely; in some companies, she “was the only woman in the electrical engineering department,” she explains, and the first woman ever with a technical project management position.

“Being in a minority places us in a constant state of stress, where we constantly need to prove why we are in the position we are,” Ospina says.

“I foresee that I will be wasting my professional life proving that I am as qualified as my male coworkers for being eligible for higher position… . While they invest their time to improve and succeed, I invest the same or more time constantly proving my qualifications.”

Ospina’s story is all too typical – and it offers a timely glimpse of what it can feel like to progress in such a male-dominated environment.

Many of the same dynamics are causing a bit of an uproar right now in Silicon Valley, where still only 10-15% of technology jobs are held be women. Indeed, the technology mecca is facing fresh and high-profile criticisms for systematic inequality, and for creating a hostile environment for female employees which can not only affect the productivity of the workplace but could create a significant socio-economic imbalance – especially given that ICT fields face worrying employment shortages in the near future.

Personal impact

Ospina personally experienced this gender imbalance from the very start of her career.

She studied electrical engineering, followed by electronics and computer science engineering, and then a postgraduate in project management at Universidad de los Andes in Colombia. The gender imbalance was pervasive at university. “For every 25 men, there were 4 women … at work, the gender gap is worse,” she says.

What is being done to address the issue?

In many of the professional environments she has worked in, there has been a lacklustre attempt to bridge the divide, with a decisive lack tangible or actionable efforts, Ospina explains. “The gender gap is superficially addressed under newsletters, but not applied in the work environment,” she says.

However, she has seen some positive examples of a balanced workforce in some markets.

“From my experience, I have seen that the United States and Denmark are countries where gender balance is a top concern,” says Ospina. “Those are the countries where I have seen a lot of women holding managerial positions, and engineering teams with equal quantity of women as men.”

And more is being done to address the issue — both in Silicon Valley where investors are now offering USD 10 million for an engineer training program to boost diversity in tech — and across the world.

In Africa, for instance, the Chan Zuckerberg-funded Andela program is training world-class women developers. (For more on why the world needs African women developers, stay tuned to the ITU Blog later this week for a Thought Leadership article from Andela’s Chief Strategy Officer Wambui Kinya.)

By Lucy Spencer (@inquisitivelucy), ITU News

ITU launched EQUALS, an unstoppable global movement to ensure women and girls are equal participants in the digital technology evolution.

Girls in ICT Day is a global annual event held on the fourth Thursday in April. It promotes and inspires girls to consider opportunities and careers in the fast growing field of ICTs.

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'The only woman in the electrical engineering department' - one woman's experience in tech

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