Stories from the Blok #6 recap: Breaking the bias panel discussion

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    The 6th edition of Stories from the Blok, held on March 31st, 2022, was an event dedicated to breaking stereotypes and myths about women in the tech industry. For that purpose, Storyblok conducted a Breaking the Bias panel discussion where guest speakers from different parts of the world told their stories about becoming women in tech. It was interesting to hear about their journeys, obstacles, and opinions about the future of tech and women in the tech industry. To get a better understanding of their stories and background, here is a list of the guest speakers:

    Jen Looper - Principal Education Developer Advocate at Microsoft
    Fabiana Clemente - Founder & Chief Data Officer (CDO) at YData
    Lydia Kothmeier - VP of Operations at Storyblok
    Vanessa Otto - Frontend Lead at Zavvy GmbH
    Petra Moravcova - Investment Associate at 3VC

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    Our moderator, Leah Ladipoh, asked the panelists to tell how they entered the tech industry. Fabiana, who studies applied mathematics, was introduced to programming during college and because of that, getting into tech was a very straightforward process for her. Jen, on the other hand, had a very different experience. Passionate about teaching, she became a French teacher but soon realized that she had no growth opportunities in the industry. Luckily, it was the beginning of the 2000s and the dot-com boom, and with self-training some courses, Jen landed a job in tech as a web designer. Twenty-two years later, and after a lot of learning, Jen is the Principal Education Developer Advocate at Microsoft.

    Jen mentioned that she was not good at math, so she never imagined a career in tech. However, she pointed out that growing up in the 70s and 80s, math was taboo for girls. However, today, Jen is teaching machine learning, which goes to show that stereotypes are wrong and that society needs to break this bias asap. This led the moderator, Leah, to her next question, where she asked the panelists who have had a more traditional path to technology about their experience in school. It was interesting to see that Vanessa never felt discouraged or discriminated against as a child or in university for her love for computers. She did, however, start to notice stereotypical behaviors once she entered the workforce.

    Quote from Vanessa Otto, Frontend Lead at Zavvy GmbH

    • Once I started to work on frontend technologies, people told me strange things like “Hey, actually doing a good job for a woman” and “Wow, you are doing a great job, especially as a woman”

      Vanessa Otto

      Frontend Lead at Zavvy GmbH
      Vanessa Otto

    When telling her story, Petra said that she was the only girl in many of her university classes and she often felt discouraged by her classmates and even her teachers by being told that the path she was on was not meant for girls. On the other hand, Lydia told the audience that she was encouraged by her family to be whoever she wanted. Her father always said that she could reach anything she wanted and treated her and her brother equally. Furthermore, she had a great role model - her mother, who finished her studies with two young kids and became an entrepreneur afterward.

    The panelists concluded that even when they have found themselves in a welcoming environment, they have had to prove themselves more than men.

    Quote from Fabiana Clemente, Founder & Chief Data Officer at YData

    • You always have to run further and do more so you can prove that you are equally as good as your male colleagues even though we know that how good you are in tech does not depend on your gender.

      Fabiana Clemente

      Founder & Chief Data Officer at YData
      Fabiana Clemente

    The most interesting point of the discussion was brought up by Jen, who said that the first coders were women who were code crashing in World War II at Bletchley Park. In fact, we discover that in 1883, Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician, wrote an algorithm for the first analytics engine by realizing that numbers can represent more than just numerical values of things. Unfortunately, it all switched to become a male-dominated field.

    It took Vanessa years to understand that she was being paid way less than her male colleagues in similar or lower positions, which made her very angry. Fabiana, on the other hand, Fabiana feels she was lucky that she was mentored by strong women leading the teams that she worked with, which allowed for high salary transparency and equal pay. Patra’s journey was also challenging, but she managed to get through it as a winner.

    Quote from Petra Moravcova, Investment Associate at 3VC

    • There are a lot of community projects and amazing communities where you always have the chance to work with people from the industry and do many amazing things to build your career.

      Petra Moravcova

      Investment Associate at 3VC
      Petra Moravcova

    Quote from Jen Looper, Principal Education Developer Advocate at Microsoft

    • In the 2000s, a monkey could get a job if it could type HTML. So, that’s how I felt, and I never asked or cared what others were getting paid, I was just grateful to have a job and get paid. Once I found my mentors in the tech world, I was able to insert myself into the field and be in great shape.

      Jen Looper

      Principal Education Developer Advocate at Microsoft
      Jen Looper

    Lydia also mentioned a mind-blowing moment in her career when she worked at a Private Equity Company as the COO for one of their startups. At one of the meetings with bankers, she was asked by the men in the room to make them coffee as they believed she was the assistant and could not imagine a young woman like her as the COO. This made Lydia feel like she needed to change the way she looked or behaved, but after speaking to her mentor and reviewing the situation, she realized that she should work to change the world around her, not herself.

    When asked about the tech industry's future, the panelists expressed their excitement about it. They were curious to see where decentralization will take us and what its impact on sustainability will be. Lastly, they are all excited to see more women in leadership positions and founders in the industry.

    Key takeaways

    Hard work and determination will get you far, is what all the panelists agreed on. In addition, being confident and true to yourself is crucial as it will help you grow as a person and advance in your career. Finding role models and mentors will provide excellent support for you as a woman in the tech industry. Lastly, be a mentor and a role model for others and help shape the future of the tech industry.