What do you think tech companies can do for women, to empower women?
Let’s start from the beginning
Kids often get asked what they want to be when they grow up. As far as I recall, I always answered the same thing – I want to be an Astrophysicist so that I can understand how stars, galaxies, and the universe work. To accomplish this I enrolled in a Physics degree at Lisbon University back in 2001. There were a lot of us. There weren’t many girls to be seen among the dozens that sat in the auditoriums of our campus buildings C3 and C1. In my year, there were four of us, maybe another four in Geophysics, and another two or so signed up for the physics teaching major.
But from what I could tell, last year was a close call! There were 28 boys and 22 girls who began their Physics degree at my university. But for Computer Science the numbers are up to no good – out of 116 spots, only 14 were taken by women. Using university enrolment as a forecast of what the workforce will look like in a few years, it’s no surprise that women are so scarce in the tech industry.
I have always known that my path would take me to STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – and although fate took me away from science, it ended up pushing me to the tech side. I started working in IT back in 2007, and I’m still learning new things every day.
It’s never easy to take risks
I have faced many challenges during my career. Maybe the biggest – and hardest – one was to change jobs. I did so during a period of my life in which not many would take the risk. I was pregnant when a good friend pushed me to go to an interview. “But who would hire a pregnant lady?” I asked him. My current employer would, and they did. Volkswagen Digital Solutions saw a soon-to-be mom, but also a professional with the potential to contribute to the long-term goals and vision of the company. But that is not the end of my story.
Motherhood comes with a lot of struggles and lessons. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone, and I have been able to share my experiences with several other women from different walks of life, so my view is a bit broader than just the Tech industry. Sadly, their stories weren’t the same as mine.
Motherhood and all of its challenges when we are working
Most women have to go back to work 5 months after giving birth to their babies. During this time of babies’ lives, they are still fully dependent on us to feed them (if that is what the family decided). The World Health Organization recommends that babies, regardless of where they live in the world, should have their mom’s milk as the only source of food during the first 6 months of their lives. So how can we provide for our children if we are working?
Here in Portugal, during the first year of a baby’s life or until they stop breastfeeding, the mother has her workday reduced by two hours to promote these feeding times. What ends up happening is that women have to pump milk during the day, and I have met some who had to do it in their office’s bathrooms or in the backseat of their cars in the garage.
How VWDS adapted their office to better accommodate mothers
In my office at the tech unit SDC:LX – the Yellow Home – our Happiness Team transformed a small windowless room into a comfortable place where I – and the Moms that would follow me – could extract milk for our babies to eat the next day at daycare. My colleagues and bosses have always kept an eye out, making sure I stop working on time. “Tomorrow is another day”, they used to say, so I would go pick up Pedro from kindergarten on time.
Several female colleagues and friends have told me that during interview processes in other companies they were asked: “So… Are you planning on having kids anytime soon?”. It’s funny that when I ask my male colleagues about their interview experiences, none of them were asked this!
I wrote this article as a response to a question in the title: “What do you think tech companies can do for women, to empower women?”. Well, my answer is quite simple. They can respect them as the professionals they are. They can reassure us that our choices will not be limited between having a successful career or family — there is time for everything.
Particularly now during this pandemic and with remote work being a constant, I have frequently seen my female friends overwhelmed and saying that they are working more hours than what their contracts mandate. “But there is so much to do!”, they tell me. Perhaps, but “tomorrow is another day” for that.
A testimonial of a mom in tech:
- When I joined a STEM Degree there were a lot of us, but not many were women
- Who would hire a pregnant lady like me? My current employer did
- Most working moms in Portugal are faced with breastfeeding challenges. One of them is to be able to extract milk during work hours and some have to do it in their office’s bathrooms or in the backseat of their cars in the garage
- It is crucial for offices to provide safe and comfortable spaces for breastfeeding or milk pumping
- Companies have to respect women as the professionals they are. They can reassure women that their choices will not be limited between having a successful career or family