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From its inception during the second world war well into the 1960´s, the tech industry was dominated by women. Women like Grace Hooper, who was instrumental in paving the way for modern programming languages.
The times have certainly changed, and unfortunately now, women are underrepresented in tech fields throughout Latin America and the world. The reasons for this are many and differ across countries, but the issue remains the same: there is a significant lack of women studying science, math and engineering.
Shaping the discussion and the solution around how to get more girls and women into tech careers in Colombia is a group of female developers and professionals at PSL, a software outsourcing company focused on providing software engineering services to clients from a nearshore, same time-zone service delivery model. Software Girls was created with the intention of bringing more visibility to women and their work at PSL, and to also actively increase the percentage of females working as developers and in roles related to software development at PSL (ie: Scrum master, product manager, business analyst, UX, etc.).
The group is not, however, only internally focused, and actively participates in events and workshops in partnership with other groups to improve the skill sets of girls in the community and introduce them to successful role models in fields not normally chosen by women. The women in the group serve as mentors in the community and in the company, and organize workshops, conferences, and other events in collaboration with other organizations and businesses throughout Colombia.
Software Girls is hoping to avoid focusing solely on the issues of the lack of girls studying sciences and maths at universities, or the cultural traditions, stereotypes and perceptions that stand in the way of advancements for women, because the solutions being developed throughout Latin America deserve far more attention. Software Girls was formed as a direct response to those problems and its members continue to champion creative solutions to a challenging problem.
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Next year, for example, the group is hoping to start an elective course at high schools in Medellin to expose girls to software engineering careers at a younger age. The course would feature different introductory programming topics presented by different developers in order to showcase a plethora of opinions and approaches. Additionally, Software Girls will assist in organizing the 2018 Latin American Women in Technology (Latinity) conference in Bogota.
They've also completed projects and workshops this year. As part of their initiative to encourage girls to choose careers in engineering and the sciences, Software Girls hosted an Arduino workshop in Medellin attended by 15 girls. The objective of the workshop was to highlight the interesting things that can be created through software. Arduino is an open-source hardware and software platform that is used to build interactive, digital projects, and it's a great choice for introducing young girls to the wonderful world of software engineering.
The more often young girls are provided evidence of the variety of career opportunities available to them and the more often men and women work to break down the gender stereotypes and prejudices that stand in the way of girls recognizing the feasibility of careers in traditionally male dominated sectors, the sooner we can begin welcoming more women into the professional workforce in Latin America. Programming, and other career tracks in the sciences or even the arts, are not intended to be male or female jobs. If we hope to bring women back into tech or see more men take on nursing roles, we'll have to get over our desire to classify such positions as belonging to some more than others.
If you'd like to know more about Software Girls or get involved, contact Catherine Córdoba in Bogotá, or Mariana Ramírez in Medellín.