May 24, 2019

Kiwi.com’s Women in Tech inspires women to pursue career in tech

The annual forum creates a platform for women from all over the world to meet, share, and give support to each other

Last weekend I attended a forum on Women in Tech hosted by Kiwi.com in Brno. I’m still fresh on memories from the forum because it was a unique opportunity to meet some of the world’s most successful women in technology. Even though I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the conference as this was my first time attending, it far exceeded my expectations.

2019 is the second year of the event (check out this link for last year’s Women in Tech) and I definitely see great potential in its concept. Through celebrating women’s success in tech, new generations of women are inspired to pursue a career in the industry.

Barbora Hanousková from Kiwi.com said about the forum: “For me, what we’re doing here is building a platform for women to meet and it’s awesome to meet last year’s speakers talking to this year’s speakers and recommending speakers for this year.”

The forum was hosted at Impact Hub just outside of Brno’s city center.

Although it’s the largest Impact Hub in Europe and the second-largest in the world, the venue itself felt pleasantly intimate and, after an adjustment period, easy to navigate.

It welcomed about 370 people and hosted 30 speakers so it was a busy day for everyone.

Platform for women to help and give support to each other

This year’s Women in Tech created a safe space for women to discuss their success without any judgment, misconception, or fear. I was proud to be surrounded by such inspirational women and young women who themselves might become an inspiration one day.

However, the forum wasn’t only about showcasing the success stories of accomplished women. For me personally, the conference conjured a lingering thought: How do you achieve all this success and keep your personal life going as well? Perhaps even start a family?

Senta Čermáková opened the day with a talk on burnout syndrome, how to catch your breath, and be satisfied with a job. She made a number of interesting points but there was one that still resonates with me.

“I am a precise and well-organized person, yet I do not believe that having children is one of the ‘projects’ of our lives. It is part of life and experience that is to a large degree unique for everyone, so it is difficult to give advice to others,” Senta said.

“‘Having children’ is not a project you can plan and evaluate afterwards. Your instinct is important. If you meet a partner you are sure you would want to have children with, do it. In the short-term, children usually put a pause on your career development and make it more complicated, it is true. However, in the long-term, they give your life a new dimension. They are a source of wisdom, joy, and experiences. And this is exactly why they are a part of life, not a ‘project’.

“In an ideal state, you will slowly find in your children what you’d once meant to them when they were children — people with whom you can share joys and worries, and who are a source of inspiration, emotion, and learning,” she added.

Senta Čermáková opened the day with a talk on burnout, job satisfaction, and children.

Senta is the director of Brand and Strategic Innovations at Deloitte in Prague. Despite her successful career, she has raised two children. In her own words, it’s better not to postpone having a family for the fear of jeopardizing one’s career.

She is a great example of a woman who has made the difficult choice to have children and continue with her career.

Women nowadays may still struggle to combine career and family

For many women, even today, having a career and a family at the same time is unimaginable.

Riya Jagetia, product manager at Cognite, grew up in an environment that does not celebrate the successes of women’s careers.

“I’m South Asian, Indian, and I come from a very patriarchal part of India, Rajasthan. Growing up, the women in my family were all housewives, none of them really worked and the men all had businesses. This is why I wanted to go into business but I know that growing up I never saw a strong woman in my life,” said Riya.

Her dad sat Riya down one day. He told her she should study to become a doctor but only work part-time so she could take care of the children. Riya didn’t feel like her dad’s wish was a feasible option for her.

“I need to be a professional woman who’s helping other women, especially people who come from areas where there isn’t anybody to look up to. I want to be able to help more women, make sure that they have careers that they’re passionate about and work that they’re passionate about and don’t feel like they don’t have a choice.

“I think choice is super important. If you have the choice to be a housewife, that’s great but if you don’t have a choice to do anything else in your life, that’s kind of crippling,” she added.

Riya studied computer science engineering at one of the best schools of technology in the world and later on gained some experience in investment. Now 23, she works at one of the most successful technology companies in Norway.

Similarly, Jessica Hester, a senior software engineer at Netflix who previously worked for SpaceX, shares her sentiment about the possibility of children hindering a woman’s career.

“The biggest thing that impacts a woman’s career is when they want to have kids, and they end up staying at home for six months and that means their careers get kind of derailed for that amount of time and when they come back, there’s all this spin up time.

“Having parental leave instead of just maternity leave helps a lot with that because the men are not just having the leave but having it be culturally expected for the men to take the leave, to take the three or four months,” said Jessica.

Companies can benefit from increasing diversity in the workplace

There are still many companies, especially in tech, that do not cater to the needs of women. The tech world is still predominantly male and women often do not even consider the option of pursuing studies or a career in tech. The forum is just one way to broaden the horizons of women and inspire them to at least consider a tech career path.

“Yeah, I think there’s been a lot more events, like this conference, the Grace Hopper conference (editor’s note: Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing) and local organizations, like PyLadies is one that’s here, and Ladies Who Go. It’s all really helpful for building your networks.

“Also just going to other meetups, it’s really scary to go to a random software meetup somewhere where you don’t know the people […] But at a certain point it’s really worth taking the risk and just going for it because you’ll meet people and get offered opportunities from those,” added Jessica.

I believe that Women in Tech is a great opportunity for women to learn from other women as they, unfortunately today still, need to be reminded that having a tech career is an attainable goal.

WIT 2019 attracted women and men alike. Everyone wanted to learn more about the success of women in tech and future developments within the field.

Ilona Koren-Deutsch said: “My switch to tech was all about ‘fake it ’til you make it’. I pretty much bluffed my way into a position as a unix sysadmin after reading a book about it. Of course, I felt imposter syndrome! It was a few months before I realized, to my surprise and delight, that I was as good at my job as anyone else on my team. It was that realization that made me believe that I could have a successful career in tech, and always keep learning.”

Ilona is a senior tech writer at Twitch. Although having studied theatre, literature and feminist theory, she had switched to tech in the 90s as, according to her, she needed to have a serious adult job.

As was also a topic of the conference, diversity, including gender diversity, has to start at an early age.

“Czechitas is a platform that helps to inspire little kids to pursue IT careers without specific gender like everyone because we need IT labor here in the Czech Republic. Through hands-on and very creative workshops etc, we offer courses for women and this is a big thing, this is a core activity that we do,” said Dita Přikrylová, CEO of Czechitas.

A lot went down during the conference. However, it is more obvious to me than ever how necessary it is to create a space for women, a platform just like Women in Tech, which provides the tools and resources to inspire, share, and learn.

And, thanks to the positive feedback the conference keeps receiving, who knows, perhaps it will become a weekend-long event next year.

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