13.03.2023 - ICT

Proportion of women in IT in Latvia ranges from 20 to 29%

Statistical data illustrating the representation of women in the information technology (IT) sector in Latvia varies from 20 to 29%. While this is not a bad figure at European level, there is always room for growth.

To mark the week of 8 March, Labs of Latvia has produced a three-part article series focusing on women in IT. In this article we look at the statistics, in the second we focus on the role of societal pressure and ways to improve the situation, and in the third we highlight the benefits of diversity in the team.

First, some statistics

Currently, women make up only 23% of all IT professionals in Latvia, according to the latest DESI study. Līna Sarma, board member and co-creator of Riga TechGirls, points out that there are more specific IT professions that require more in-depth programming or engineering knowledge, and women are even less represented there. “We are not in the worst position in Europe, but there is definitely room for growth. For example, CERN last year adopted the ’25 by 25′ initiative to achieve 25% female staff by 2025. This would be a very good target for us to work towards too,” says Sarma.

Anna Andersone, CEO of Riga TechGirls, knows that the number of women in IT is between 20 and 25%.

“This is a growing field, and the number of women in it is also increasing. But it is not growing fast enough to increase the current proportion,” says Andersone.

Sintija Pētersone, Marketing Manager at DeskTime, also points out that the demand for IT specialists is high and it is difficult to fill vacancies. Therefore, although the number of women in the sector will increase over the years, it will be difficult to increase their share.

29% of women in Latvia work in IT, according to the latest data from Figure Baltic Advisory. “We see that this is also reflected in the number of students, for example, at Riga Technical University this academic year only 22% of IT students are women. This is two percent more than in the previous academic year, but I believe it is still not enough,” says Aiga Irmeja, executive director of the Latvian IT Cluster and the European Digital Innovation Centre in Latvia.

The statistics of the Latvian Start-up Association Startin.LV show that 23% of Latvian startups have at least one female founder, but only 7% of startups are founded entirely by women. “The first indicator makes me happy, because observing the situation I can say purely intuitively that this indicator is growing. The second indicator may not be so encouraging, but it doesn’t bother me too much, because I like the idea of teams with women, men, and non-binary people,” says Olga Barreto-Goncalves, head of the Latvian Startup Association Startin.LV.

Balance at company level is key

When it comes to women’s representation in the IT industry, Līga Lētiņa, head of Printify’s design and research team, points out that it depends a lot on how you look at data. For example, Printify has a pretty good gender balance: 43% of women work at the startup. However, the proportion of women among programmers is 4 to 5%.

“The IT industry encompasses different roles and specialties. Women testers, designers, project, and product managers help maintain a healthy gender balance. I am not a strict believer in positive discrimination, who will say that you must have 50% women in any IT position. I think it’s most important to have gender balance in the company as a whole,” says Lētiņa.

In her view, there should be concern if a company has less than 40% women. At the same time, Lētiņa points out that even if companies have a good gender balance, there are often problems in management-level positions where there are fewer women. It is not easy to find a reason for this situation, especially as there are quite a lot of companies where women are nominated for first-level managerial positions, but the number decreases at each successive level. She suggests that one of the reasons could be that, for various reasons, women themselves choose not to be promoted and not to move up the leadership ladder because of a lack of confidence or because of the energy resources that they also have to share with their family and raising children. Lētiņa has observed that women are hesitant to apply for the next level position only when they believe they deserve it and are knowledgeable enough, while men tend to be more self-confident and apply even when they are not yet fully prepared for the role.

“However much we talk about equality, women tend to take on more of the day-to-day responsibilities at home. Combining this with work in the IT sector often burns them out, because there is a lot of pressure, dynamics, and sometimes they need to be connected outside working hours, especially in crisis situations,” says Pētersone.

Lētiņa has experienced what it means for a woman to lead a team of men in the technical field. Sometimes it was psychologically difficult to resist centuries-old stereotypes of what a woman’s role is and what a woman as a leader should be; it happens on an unconscious level. “Also, many people still prefer to see men in leadership roles, as the situation in politics illustrates well,” she says.

More women in IT

“I’ve been in IT for 12 years. I remember very well how big the celebration was when the first programmer started working at draugiem.lv. It was something really extraordinary. It’s not such a big deal now. When I joined DeskTime two years ago, we had two women in our team. Now, we are 15 women in a team of 30. Yes, there are fewer women than men in development, but working in IT is not just about coding and higher maths,” says Pētersone.

Sandra Konavko, senior development manager at Emergn Latvia, explains that nowadays IT is no longer just about programming: communication is becoming more and more important. Communication is an essential part of development processes: organising information flow, planning meetings and work, handing over the developed work and helping the client to start using the new solution in their processes sooner, as well as evaluating the quality of work and offering solutions to increase the value of the client’s investment. “All this is just a small part of an IT professional’s daily routine, and relationship management is playing an increasingly important role in any team’s work, especially in remote working environments or current project management methodologies, where software production consists of many small development cycles, the management and planning of which is as important as the development itself,” says Konavko.

When Lētiņa started working in IT in 2011, she was the only woman in her company. 10 years ago, a woman in IT, let alone a female developper, was a rarity. Lētiņa’s observations show that women are now better represented in the industry, and there is a feeling that the situation is gradually improving. She also takes special care to ensure that her colleagues are diverse and complement each other when building her team and recruiting staff.

Meanwhile, Andersone recalls that 10 years ago many people did not see the problem and did not understand why it was necessary to talk about the fact that there were few women in IT. It was common to hear that everyone had the same rights, women just wanted to work in other areas.

“Now the mindset has changed, and no one questions why diversity is needed anymore. Yes, many people don’t understand how to create an inclusive environment where women want to work and feel safe and well, but almost everyone understands that diversity is an asset,” she says.

Women join the industry in leaps and bounds

“I think the stereotypical barrier of women in IT has been overcome and more and more women are joining the industry. But we need to keep focusing on improving the situation. It is encouraging that there are already many different support funds and projects available in Latvia to make women’s involvement in technology as effective as possible, such as Riga TechGirls, Codelex, and Women4IT. More and more women are breaking down this barrier themselves and are open to the idea of learning new skills in the field of technology,” says Santa Zaļalova, head of the patient portal piearsta.lv.

The Riga TechGirls programme Get to Know Technology, which introduces participants to the IT industry, has been listened to by almost 17,000 people since 2020. And 1,200 women have graduated from the She Goes Tech professional training since 2019. Around 400 of them have found a job in the sector, 400 are continuing their training, and 400 realised that the field was not right for them.

A turning point: companies’ attitudes

Sarma has also noticed that the situation is changing. “When I started working in the sector, there was a stronger perception in society that technology was not a women’s sector. For a long time, I was the only woman or one of the few women at IT events, not to mention the people who took part in the discussions on stage. Nowadays, this is not so evident: you can see diversity in both events and speakers, and attitudes have become much more inclusive,” says Sarma.

Konavko believes that the changes are due to the high demand for IT professionals and the courses and training currently available to promote women’s involvement in the sector.

“Just 10 years ago, because of societal pressure based on stereotypes, there were times when I too was uncertain about my choice to study IT. Today, on the other hand, the biggest stereotype is still about the sector as a whole, without considering the wide range of professionals it suits and the career opportunities it offers to everyone,” says Konavko.

Sarma has noticed that companies’ attitudes are also changing. “In 2017, two years after Riga TechGirls was launched, it was noticeable that it was still a bit of a taboo topic for companies, and they were very cautious about getting involved. This has changed dramatically in recent years. Every year we are building new and wonderful partnerships with IT companies, and we are doing online sessions with them about opportunities in their companies for women looking for IT jobs. This is what I think has been the most important turning point because it is companies that can provide opportunities in IT careers, and it is important that they know their impact on this,” says Sarma.

Author: Anda Asere (labsoflatvia.com). Photo: Shutterstock.

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