Source: eKapija | Wednesday, 21.09.2016.| 15:58
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Nevena Sofranic, co-founder of ITgirls.rs – It's a success if we manage to motivate at least one young woman

Nevena Sofranic
Nevena Sofranic
Men dominate the world of information technologies and computer sciences, both in number and the positions they take.

What are the reasons for this and would it be good, for both women and the profession, for this state to change and is there's room for change at all? Is the lack of women in IT a consequence of young girls being steered towards social sciences and arts? Above all, is it even a topic worthy of discussion and do we need more women in IT?

Before I wrote this article, a programmer friend succinctly answered my questions in a few sentences. Yes, it is important, she said, because we educate ourselves for professions in which we can't find jobs or work for minimum wages, while at the same time there's a sector with above average salaries, favorable working conditions and a deficit in human resources. Yes, it is important, because IT has been promoted as a male profession for a long time, which is why there are still bastions of the “old school”, where men are trusted more and automatically get better positions and higher salaries.

We talked about women in the world of information technologies with Nevena Sofranic, one of the founders of the ITgirls.rs project. Her aim is to popularize the IT profession among adolescents in Serbia and encourage women to aim for professional achievement in the industry, through presenting examples of successful ladies, among other methods. Recently, they organized the first female programming competition in Serbia – IT Girls Hackathon.

eKapija: Why is the topic of women in IT in fact important?

– I get that question all the time and I like to answer with an example: the first airbag prototype was made and tested taking into consideration the male physiognomy, as the team had no female members. Soon afterwards, a woman died because the airbag didn't fit the anatomy of a female body. It was only then that women were included in the team of engineers. It's highly important that teams are mixed and research shows that mixed teams produce the best results. Besides, when there's a lack of human resources in any area in a country where the unemployment rate is 19%, we can't afford to have an entire gender not play its role in developing this industry.

eKapija: What is the true “recipe” for increasing the percentage of women in the industry?

– Education is the solution. We need to implement age-adjusted programs into the elementary and secondary school curricula as soon as possible. Our “recipe” is to continue organizing workshops and competitions and providing a plethora of illustrative examples. We want to enable them to say: “hey, I could give this a try”.

eKapija: Which obstacles do women face in IT? Some say there aren't any and that we impose them on ourselves.

(Photo: Maksim Kabakou/shutterstock.com)
– This is a sensitive topic, as there's not enough research as to what the problems and obstacles really are, if there are any. If a young girl is trained to think she is meant for social sciences and arts from an early age, it's no surprise she won't choose computer sciences. The environment in which a child is growing up plays a significant role in forming its aspirations and future goals. A girls used to playing with dolls won't be interested enough in computers. Computers used to be sold as toys for little boys once anyway. So, it's possible that there's a lack of self-confidence, but a stimulating environment can certainly mitigate these difficulties at any age.

eKapija: In essence, the job knows no gender?

– I'm sure that, as is the case with any job, men and women are equally capable of doing good work in the field. Each individual has their own affinities, knowledge and motivation. It's up to them how to use those and what to choose, which is true of both genders.

eKapija: The first IT Girls Hackathon was a success. What are the plans and goals for the period ahead?

– It really was a success, and we were delighted to learn how interested young women were and what their ideas were. The teams tried hard to reach the solution and were given great support by the mentors from Namics. As regard further plans, we have plenty of ideas. We are currently working intensively on an idea meant for teenage girls around Serbia, as we believe that decentralization is highly important. Another group we find interesting are women over 30 who are educated, but can't find jobs easily. However, this idea is still being developed. We also plan to look into the position of women, but that kind of endeavor requires thorough preparation.

eKapija: The PHP Serbia association has recently published a pilot study called “Women and Girls in the IT world”. According to you, what is the most important thing that this study has shown? One of the facts is that men and women gave different answers.

– The most worrying thing is that 60% of those surveyed said that women in the IT sector were discriminated against and that each fifth male subject believes that women are bad at programming. The fact that answers by female and male subjects differed so much points to a serious gap. It's not the point to say which gender is better, the idea is that we are all equal.

eKapija: Do you believe that gender discrimination exists and have you ever experienced it personally?

– Due to prejudices about the characteristics of each gender, there is gender discrimination. For example, there's a belief that women are worse at driving or that administrative jobs are reserved for women. I truly believe that both sexes are exposed to discrimination.

eKapija: Do young women in the IT sector in Serbia earn as much as men?

– The research carried out by more than 10 IT associations late last year showed that there was a difference in salaries of male and female developers. Of course, I emphasize that such data need to be examined thoroughly before any conclusion is reached.

eKapija: Could we expect a “real” survey examining the position of women in IT any time soon?

(Photo: Corepics VOF/shutterstock.com)
– Such a survey requires thorough preparation, and we also need support by associations, companies and experts capable of analyzing the data. We need to define exact premises in order to come to accurate conclusions. I hope that we will carry out the research in 2017, so that we could compare the results in the years to come.

DON'T COMPLAIN!

After working in various IT companies for several years, Nevena Sofranic stepped into entrepreneurial waters. A little over a year ago, she founded a tech talent agency called Omnes. This is a team of recruiters which help companies find and hire qualified candidates.

– My career has advanced gradually, and I started working in the IT industry as an assistant. Later, I advanced to HR and now I'm an entrepreneur. One learns to love this industry quickly, because it consists of educated, smart people, who work on improving the world each day. The IT sector has a lot to offer, from working with computers, through coding, to some other positions leaning towards management. There's a whole array of professions within IT and that's what makes it interesting and attractive.

eKapija: What made you decide to start the ITgirls project?

– I started ITgirls.rs together with Nemanja Cedomirovic. We are both accomplished professionals and we wanted to support the community in some way. We arrived at the topic of women in IT through discussion and the project arose spontaneously. We met with a lot of criticism initially, but at the end of the day, it was important to us to hear that we had managed to motivate at least one young woman. This is how the Nooberka section was established, a blog which Danijela (Rasic, author's comment) is writing while she's studying the basics of coding. Also, Tatjana (Knezevic, author's comment) looks for positive local examples and then introduces them to our readers through interviews.

eKapija: Who are your role models in this business? What is the best advice you've been given?


– I grew up next to a strong female role model. It might be a cliché, but it's my mother. She raised me to have confidence and be ambitious. I remember her successes from when I was a child and my desire to make similar accomplishments some day. Unfortunately, I have no other female role models, but Elon Musk is one of the people I find inspiring.

The best advice I've ever received came from my mentor: “Don't complain!” Trust me when I tell you it's applicable in countless situations, from job interviews to negotiations with clients.

M.M.
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