Women in Tech – @ Upland Objectif Lune
Today is International Women’s Day, and we, at Upland Objectif Lune, wish to celebrate this event with a portrait of two of our very own team members.
Historically, women were very present at the beginning of the computer age, especially during the mainframe era (‘50s to ‘70s). With the arrival of the personal computer in the ‘80s, the representation of women in IT declined.
Eric Walden, a professor at the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business and director of the Texas Tech Neuroimaging Institute, explains, “In the mid-80s, about 40% of computer science graduates were women. Since then, every other field has been improving in terms of gender representation, except IT. It’s the only thing that has consistently become less diverse.”1
Tenacious stereotypes are also a consideration, as stated here by Sapna Cheryan, a psychologist at the University of Washington. Her 2019 study asked 254 undergraduates from the universities of Washington and Stanford to describe the typical characteristics that students associate with computer scientists. Here is what she found: “Students depicted them as male, intelligent, lacking social skills, and singularly focused on computers. Some even described them as pale, thin, and lacking personal hygiene.”2
Hopefully, our OL portraits will help debunk these stereotypes and show that women in technology are not pale nerds or gamers, with poor hygiene, and a lack of social skills! More importantly, we’ll help illustrate that better gender representation would be a good thing for the IT industry.
Sophie Rondeau is the Product Development Manager for Upland Objectif Lune’s Product Development team based in Montreal.
In 1995, when she graduated from Université de Montréal (U de M), only 6% of the graduates were women. She agrees that better gender representation would be nice, but she considers that gender equity should not be forced. For example, “If men are not tempted to be nurses or daycare workers, why should we push them?”; the same would apply to women and IT. She also considers that equity at all costs is not a good thing. “If quotas for gender representation are made to guide hiring policies, it would not be to the advantage of the industry, whether it is for men or women.”
She also states that, contrary to certain trades, like being a fireman or a construction worker, “IT has no roadblocks for women”. According to her extensive experience, there are slight gender differences at play, “Generally speaking, I’ve noticed that women tend to be more attentive to detail and resort to cutting corners less often than men. I’ve also noted than men are more direct, which is sometimes easier to deal with when opinions differ.”
As with many other women, early in her career, Sophie did experience unfortunate gender bias remarks such as: “You’re quite a good programmer for a girl.” Given that this was an isolated incident that did not re-occur, she’s chalked it up as a sign that things have improved over the last twenty years.
For her part, Sophie says that her career choice helped solidify her independence, both financially and otherwise, and allowed her to put her “natural skills in mathematics and logic” to good use. Although she supports feminist ideals, her career choice was not necessarily a feminist statement at the time, just a pleasant coincidence.
Fatoumata Traoré is a Service Delivery Manager for the Upland Objectif Lune’s Professional Services team.
Fatou, as she’s known throughout OL, arrived in Canada from Côte D’Ivoire at age 18. Educated in the French system and the daughter of an engineer, science has always been her passion. When the time came, she chose the same program (Computer Science), at the same university (U de M) as Sophie and graduated in 2007. For most of her studies, she was the only woman in her faculty classes.
And Fatou is ok with that; “I have always been surrounded by men” she says. Somehow, she always found herself in places where men outnumbered women, but she likes it as she just feels like “she can be her true self”.
Nevertheless, Fatou considers herself as “very feminine”, and enjoys dressing-up and looking fabulous! But when she arrived at Objectif Lune in 2011 and joined the Professional Services team, she was, again, the only woman in her team; the ‘boy’s uniform’ consisted of jeans and t-shirts, so she felt she had to ‘tone down’ her apparel, as she was worried of coming across “as a doll”. When two other women later joined the team, she was again comfortable expressing herself through fashion. Years later, she is proud to say that “I work for a company that does not judge on the appearance but rather focuses on skills and what you can bring”.
She considers that the main thing is to “give equal chances of growth”, regardless of gender. She says that as a woman in project management and technology, her goal is to “set examples, break down barriers and inspire” young girls to take on this fulfilling career.
As for stereotypes, in her case, they “always came from the outside”, not from her immediate work environment. When she tells people what she does, she frequently gets a remark like “I wouldn’t have guessed.” She usually finds it amusing but is happy to correct some stereotypes that people may have.
Upland Objectif Lune would like to thank our participants for their openness and candor during these interviews. We hope that reading about these two perspectives, on what it is to be a woman working in technology, encourages reflection and inspires our next Sophie and Fatou!
We wish them and all the women at Upland Objectif Lune and in other organizations, a happy International Women’s Day 2022!
1- https://today.ttu.edu/posts/2021/09/Stories/why-is-computer-science-unpopular-among-women – Why is Computer Science Unpopular Among Women?
2- https://medium.com/@florenda/why-so-few-women-in-computer-science-a-look-into-college-curriculum-a0a4fd7c868f – Why so Few Women in Computer Science? A Look into Stereotyping & College Curriculum