Technology

Women, men, and IT: Mixed teams are ideal

Published: 13. 4. 2023
Author: Karel Černý
Photo: BiQ Group, Shutterstock.com
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Some industries are primarily dominated by men, others by women, and yet more are evenly split. The IT sector most certainly belongs to the first group. I discussed what it's like for women to work in the industry with a team of ladies at BiQ Group - communications manager Petra, HR manager Miroslava, HTML developers AKA coders Michaela and Klára, frontend developer Lenka, and tester Veronika.

How many people does your company employ, and how many of them are women?
Miroslava: The whole group employs around 460 people, of which roughly 35 percent are women. The office, HR, finance, and marketing teams make up for a lion's share of that number. But of course, we also have female developers, testers, coders, Atlassian Consultants, or project managers. When it comes to leadership positions where a technical background is required, those are mostly held by men, but if we're talking soft-skill positions, women prevail there instead. And in the project management teams, for instance, it's divided pretty much evenly.

When they hear the words IT, a lot of people think of "a world full of weird men". Why did you choose this industry?
Lenka
: When I was in high school and I had to choose my major as well as what college to go to, we had an introduction to programming course. I really got into it because I've always enjoyed subjects that you need to grasp and understand rather than cram for, memorize. So, I ended up graduating in information technology.
Michaela: Originally, I didn't study anything technical; after high school, I studied humanities in college. I got into IT in an administrative capacity at my previous job where I spent nine years, and the environment kind of gradually grew on me. Most of the coworkers whom I'm friends with to this day – we go to each other's weddings and so on – are programmers. But that company wasn't doing web development, it specialized in more complex things such as car diagnostics and medical equipment. They tried to convince me to become a tester back then but I didn't quite feel up to it. On the other hand, I was always drawn to something more creative and web design was really intriguing. In the end, I got a "boost" from courses run by Czechitas, eventually, I found out about Bootiq through my husband (a programmer, by the way), and now I'm here.

A marriage between two IT people... Do you talk in code over dinner?
Michaela
: [laughs] Don't believe the stories, programmers aren't affected to the extent that they don't do anything else. On the contrary, they are often very interesting people with a lot of hobbies. They build canoes, brew beer, and so on. So, at home, we talk about just about anything and everything. And when the conversation does turn technical, it's mostly when I need to run something by my husband, because he's a backend dev who isn't as well versed in frontend matters.

Have you ever experienced – during a client meeting for instance – people being surprised at talking to a woman about IT?
Veronika
: It's not that people were exactly surprised or even treated me unfairly. What I did experience was the male counterpart sort of testing whether I know what I'm doing, how well-versed I am on the matter, how confident, and what they can get away with, how far they can go. I think they wouldn't have tried that if they were dealing with a man.

Did he see you as a weaker opponent?
Veronika
: It felt like that at times. So, I set things straight and that was that... [laughs] Honestly, I'm not a big fan of these male-female contests.
Miroslava: I've seen this in HR a little bit too. From time to time, the person being interviewed will turn primarily to the guys who are representing the IT department there, to the point of basically ignoring me.
Petra: Some girls are also dealing with this issue when they're presenting a project plan to a client and they automatically turn to a programmer, for instance. When it comes to important meetings, big projects, a woman often has to show that she's capable of fully taking the reins. In a man, that is expected.

When you first got into IT, how were you received? Were there jokes, comments?
Lenka
: I have not experienced that personally. My first job was when I was in school, at a company that was looking for interns. They picked about ten of us and at least a third were girls.
Veronika: At my last job, I became a tester kind of by accident; I majored in economics at university. And yes, there were some jokes early on; some of the developers, for instance, didn't exactly welcome me with open arms. The truth is, though, that I was untouched by the IT world, a blank slate, maybe that's why they treated me the way they did early on. And also maybe the guys didn't know how to feel when the new girl wasn't exactly ugly. [laughs] But then they got their act together and all went well in the end. When I came here, things were completely different. I knew some of my coworkers from the past and there were zero issues.
Miroslava: I did experience something like that in a previous job, about seven years back. They tended to pay a lot of attention when a woman was hired for a really hard IT job. They were sort of okay with the "softer" positions such as analytics, but they were really taken aback when it came to the really hard-skill jobs. But I believe that it was due to the times back then and it would be a completely different situation today.
Klára: I've never experienced animosity per se. But when I was just starting out, having transferred from another career entirely, I sometimes wondered whether I was doing something wrong, asking about everything. You have to realize that it's ok to ask questions when you're a beginner, that it's nothing to worry about. But it might also be due to the fact that women in general often tend to undervalue themselves.

Has working in a primarily male team had an effect on you?
Petra
: I must admit that it has had an impact on me. The way that guys are often more direct has rubbed off on me a little bit, even in my private life. I don't beat around the bush as much, my thinking has become significantly more rational.
Miroslava: I concur. In a meeting, for instance, I'm not as flowery with my words, shortening sentences, getting more to the point, being less emotional. I would say that women and men really do think about some things in different ways, which is often beneficial in various meetings and projects.
Petra: That is why some companies, usually bigger ones, tend to build mixed teams. Not just due to what Miri said but also because men then tend to automatically behave in a different, more cultivated manner. And a woman is often better at communicating, which the clients can appreciate too.
Miroslava: Let me just add that it works both ways. If we have a fully female team, we want to supplement it with a man because they can bring a different point of view into the team's processes.

Do you see any differences between working in IT and other industries?
Michaela
: I would say that in IT, at least in the more technical areas, people are much more cooperative. Because IT is a deep, endless ocean where nobody knows everything and everybody depends on the knowledge of others. And they realize that. Somebody with a huge ego just can't work in a team like that. But that applies to men as well as women.
Miroslava: I will take that as a segue from Míša and talk about the kind of people we hire. And it is just like she says. We often meet people during interviews – be they men or women – who have really inflated egos, and we can feel that hiring them would pose an issue for the team, it would slow down cooperation. So, no matter how skilled that kind of person is, we just won't take them into our team. The risk of disruption is just too high.
Veronika: My perspective is entirely different. I'm a single mother, working part-time, often remotely, which is, I think, a lot easier in this industry than in many others. It's great that this is becoming much more widespread. That people can work part-time, that employers are meeting people halfway with remote work when their child is sick so they don't have to ask for caregiver support, and so on.
Klára: What I really like about IT is that it keeps changing and evolving, so there is always room to grow and keep moving forward both in your area of expertise as well as in various teams.

Speaking of children, there's no intervention from an employer, laws, or directives that can help, it's been set by mother nature. Childbirth, maternity leave... Those are, I assume, obstacles in terms of a career.
Petra
: Naturally, but it varies from person to person. We planned to have a family, we wanted one. We became parents at a more advanced age and our children were born very soon after one another. I was aware that motherhood would slow me down for some time. But after so many years of overtime and forfeited vacation days, I was kind of looking forward to it, even though I knew that coming back wouldn't be easy. With each of our children, it was really just me alone with them for some time as a mom, and I only gradually started adding in some hours at work. With my second child, it was all much faster. At my previous job, the management was primarily made up of men. I left for maternity leave fully expecting to come back to work in a reasonable amount of time. And coming back, especially if you left a position you've built for yourself, is often really hard. I think that the company expects the same person to come back, one who has the same drive, but it just logically isn't like that. When you're away on maternity leave, the business keeps running without you, they take on new projects, there can often even be a full restructuring. So, hopping back on the same train is essentially impossible, and it can take several years before you're fully back up to speed. It's a constant struggle to balance time between work and home, as well as to do a good job because your mind is often somewhere else entirely. It takes a lot of work to come to terms with that, there's no one right way. This really makes it a lot harder for us, especially at a time when technology is racing forward, and a two- or three-year hiatus can have a huge impact. I'd also like to point out that each of us has different reasons for coming back to work. And if we're forced to deal with a decision like that, it's paramount for us to not only feel but also to actually have the support of our family and our partner.
Miroslava: Let me add to that from a different perspective. When a woman is nearing thirty, regardless of whether she's already had kids or not, recruiters always consider the possibility of her having a child and going away on maternity leave, say a year after she's been hired. So that's an additional handicap in that sense. But this is more prevalent in "old school" companies, the modern ones don't worry about it as much. Here, we don't care about it at all. We're used to both men and women taking leave after their child is born or even women in the IT sector not wanting to be left out, and so coming back to work very quickly. What's more, the mothers are incredibly loyal employees after that.
Veronika: Interrupting your career path like that also often leads to a lower salary. But that applies in general, not just in IT.
Miroslava: It's not something we do here, though. We always look at our team as a whole. We never undervalue women and we always make sure their expertise is assessed equally to men. That is one myth we don't nurture here, and we're happy about that. We all have the same values and an equal starting point, and it's entirely up to each of us what we make of it. No matter if you're a man or a woman, no matter your race, or anything else.


THE COMPANY
BiQ Group guides leaders through the challenges of the digital world and offers a wide array of services, from custom development, through trusted platforms such as SAP, Atlassian, and Kentico Xperience, all the way to digital marketing and c-commerce. It employs over 460 experts across 12 regions in Czechia and Slovakia. The group's history reaches back to 2017 when BOOTIQ was established in Czechia and Slovakia by way of a merger between companies owned by Marcel Červený and Lukáš Novák. The co-founding duo was later joined by Boris Zovčák. BOOTIQ is growing dynamically, and currently remains one of BiQ Group's subsidiaries. It provides its services to companies such as T-Mobile, DPD, GTS Alive – ISIC, Škoda, Unipetrol, Zoot, and more than a hundred other clients. The group consists of the companies BOOTIQ, CCNovasoft, EEA, Bluesoft, and PUXdesign.


COMPARISON ACROSS THE EU
According to Eurostat data from 2021, the ratio of women employed in the ICT industry across all of the European Union was 19.1 %, marking a 0.6 increase over the previous year.
Czechia was the clear loser in this sense among all EU member states. Despite a slight improvement of three tenths of a percent over 2020, it still came dead last with only 10% of women employed in ICT. Slightly ahead were Hungary (14%), Slovakia (14.9%), Poland (15.5%), and Italy (16.1%). At the other end of the spectrum were Bulgaria (28.2%), Romania (26%), Malta (25.7%), Iceland (24%), and Finland (23.9%).
Czechia has been in the bottom five of these rankings consistently since 2012, coming in last a total of five times during this period. Its best year was 2012 when the ratio of women in ICT was 11%. Therefore, the ratio in Czechia has decreased by a whole percentage point by 2021.

Petra Rejsová (communications manager)

Miroslava Zajíčková (HR manager)

Veronika Vanžurová (tester)

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