A lack of hard data and case studies on women in the tech sector in Latin America has made it difficult to quantify the changes in the ecosystem that those on the ground are noting. Mariana Costa Checa, CEO of Laboratoria, says based on her experience, change is happening and there is a growing female tech talent pool. Laboratoria, which offers a boot camp to help women become web developers and UX designers, has trained over 1,000 developers and placed nearly 80% of them in jobs across leading markets in the region.
Costa Checa says she has seen other organizations emerging that play a similar role to Laboratoria, which is symptomatic of the change that is taking place. “If you go to any tech meet-up in LatAm, you will see women developers there, something that you didn’t see a few years ago. There are more women presenting. There are more groups encouraging women in to the sector, more groups encouraging women from a young age,” she says.
Dalisa Heredia-Corcino, Co-Founder and CEO of software development company IntelliSys D.Corp, says that 25% of the company’s workforce are women, but 90% of women in her company are in management; there are far fewer in development roles. Project managers also tend to be women at Intellisys.
She says moving into the role of CEO has shown her more of the challenges that women face in the industry: “I have to talk twice as loudly to be heard as a woman,” she says. “Most of the people in the corporate environment here are men.” Heredia-Corcino became CEO nine months ago.
Costa Checa says, from her perspective, most of the women have only entered the sector in the last few years, meaning there are not that many women in senior positions in tech in the region. “There is still a challenge in getting more women in senior positions. It’s the next logical next step. Over the next five years we will see them grow and that will be great,” Costa Checa says.
And when race intersects with gender the situation becomes even more complex. Olabi, a social organization that works to democratize the production of technology, created the Pretalab survey, which has highlighted issues of race and exclusion in Brazil, for example. Pretalab shares stories of black women in the IT sector in Brazil. There is still work to be done.
Combatting stereotypes about computer science as a discipline remains a challenge, though. Laboratoria has training centers in Chile, Peru, Mexico and Brazil, and Costa Checa says all these geographies are very similar, though there are differences in the size of the market, resulting in different opportunities for female developers.
Stereotypes, though, remain the same, and encouraging young women in to tech can be difficult. Figures for female enrollments in computer science degrees remain low, less than ten percent at large regional universities like Argentina’s Universidad de Buenos Aires and Colombia’s Universidad Nacional.
Heredia-Corcino has been working with schools in the Dominican Republic and she finds young girls are still hesitant to think about a career in tech, but school interventions like the ones that Intellisys has been doing show them the “beauty of getting involved in technology and show them that women can be developers.”
Heredia-Corcino also believes that companies need to play a role in developing female tech talent. “We feel that waiting for government to do things is not the right thing to do. There are smart things that you can do on your own with your resources to empower women in tech.”
Costa Checa has seen a willingness from companies to prioritize inclusion and diversity through changes in practices, such as waiving the requirement for all developer hires to have a five-year university degree.
Others are working to build the right environment in-house, to have the right mentoring program, and to create an environment that is inclusive for women too, especially in situations where teams have been all-male.
“We are working with companies like Accenture in Chile to make sure that they grow as an example of inclusion and diversity or Scotiabank in Peru that are willing to go out of their way to look for a diverse pipeline and to provide the right structure within the company so that they can grow.”
She believes that industry has a huge role to play in incentivizing inclusion and diversity. “We can have a number of organizations getting more women ready to start a career in tech, but it will be up to the companies they join whether they can grow in that career, and if they have the right environment to become leaders in the companies that they join, and therefore in the sector.”
Costa Checa adds, though, that it is still a minority of players and is not yet top of mind in every major company. The companies that she sees prioritizing this, tend to be those that have a presence in other places like the US, where this change is already being seen.
One of the most important reasons for including women in the tech sector, from Costa Checa’s perspective, is to give them the opportunity of designing or building our future and doing that in a sector that is still relatively early stage, so that when that growth happens, it is in a way that is inclusive and that creates opportunities for more people.
For Heredia-Corcino, bringing more women in to the field is vital. “We bring the diversity; we bring the creativity. We are not saying that men can’t do it, but women think differently, they bring more options, they are organised,” she says, adding most of her teams prefer female project managers.
She says a culture change is quite often needed to ensure that the environment is welcoming for women. Heredia-Corcino cites the example of a female developer who told her that whenever she has an idea about how to approach something it is usually dismissed, until other options have failed. Changing that kind of corporate culture where women’s ideas are not valued in the same way as men’s takes time and commitment.
“What we need now is making the work around diversity and inclusion in tech a real commitment from companies. What we need to get there is more data to show the size of the problem and to show the benefits of addressing the problem. We are thinking of launching some kind of diversity index in the space. What we are trying to draft is how do we build communities of practice within leading organizations so they can sit down and publicly share their commitments, their challenges, their working plans to build a more diverse and inclusive tech team, and put this in the public agenda,” says Costa Checa.