We know that hard sciences and technology are spaces where the gender gap persists. However, the new generations face the challenge of creating new places for young women in technology based on intelligence, persistence, community and passion.
In a context where more and more young women are interested in the IT field, we interview Paloma Rieznik, a prominent representative of Generation Z in the Argentinian technological universe. Paloma (18) works as a CT Analyst Associate at EY, and was Coordinator of the STEM area at Fundación Tremendas, where she led the promotion of entrepreneurial projects in science and technology. A student of the Bachelor of Data Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, she was a speaker at various conferences, including the prestigious TEDxRíodelaPlata event in May 2020.
We talked about the role of young women in technology, strategies to break the gender gap in this space and the importance of raising our voices, sharing our own experiences and knowledge, to stimulate other young women.
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Young Women in Tech: Where to Start
Red Shoe Movement-Where does your love for technology come from?
Paloma Rieznik-When I was 13 I met the Chicas en Tecnología (Girls in Tech) organization and, out of pure curiosity, I decided to enroll in one of its first programs, “Programming a Better World” (PUMM). Until then I had no idea of the meaning of working in technology, I didn’t even know programming. At the same time, I was a very shy and reserved person. Five minutes before going to PUMM I didn’t want to go because I was embarrassed. Luckily, I decided to go and live what I now consider not only the best experience of my life but also my impetus for everything I have achieved to this day.
The PUMM program consisted of finding a social problem in our environment and devising a solution through the creation of an app. With my team, we decided to make an app so that women can get employed, since, according to research that we also carried out in the program, we found that there was a huge gender gap when it came to women being able to get a job.
What sparked my love for technology was the idea of going from being a user to being a creator. Realizing that I could bring about a change in society and help other people. Since then I decided that I was going to dedicate myself to technology and use it to change the world. I received scholarships to study programming, UX design, project management, among other topics related to technology. I lost my shyness, and today I love to share my knowledge and story with other people to motivate them to be part of this change.
RSM-Do you think there are prejudices that separate young women from the world of high technology?
PR-For many years I thought there weren’t. I was raised in an environment where I felt capable of anything, I never believed that being a woman would be a limitation to perform any activity.
After meeting Chicas en Tecnología, I realized that there were girls who did not have the same privilege as me. I discovered that there were families that directed their daughters to study more human or care-related careers since these are generally associated with the role of women.
In social media, there are often negative comments about women who achieve something in technology for the simple fact of being women. Luckily, these prejudices are seen less and less, but we have to keep fighting so that little by little they disappear completely.
RSM– How do you imagine the presence of female leadership in the technological world from now into the future? What progress do you think there’s been?
PR- I think that little by little we are already seeing these changes. What many people still find difficult to understand is that women do not want to be above anyone. We simply want to be recognized with the same value that, as throughout history, different men were recognized. A couple of years ago many people did not know how to name at least one woman in history who has worked in technology. Today, it is also difficult but at least there is more visibility.
In my opinion, the real change is in opening the range of options. You can’t dedicate yourself to what you don’t know and unfortunately, for a long time, society made us believe that technology was only for men. Thanks to these dissemination spaces, it is more likely that a young woman knows that she may be able to dedicate herself to technology. It does not matter if they do not like it later, the idea is not that all women dedicate themselves to the same thing, but that they can have a greater panorama when it comes to finding their passion.
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Overcoming the awkwardness of being a minority in IT
RSM- At some point in your academic and professional career, did you feel uncomfortable or underestimated as a woman in a world inhabited and dominated mostly by men?
PR-Yes, although luckily they were not many times. The one I remember the most is the one that made me open my eyes about it, in my first programming course.
In my class we were approximately 20 people, of which only two were women and, despite the fact that I always felt accompanied by part of the institution, there was something in those figures that made me doubt why I was sitting there studying technology, why there were so few women. If I couldn’t figure something out or I did not understand it, I never attributed it to the fact that I was 14 and there was a language that I did not know, or that I was simply there to learn. I believed that in the end everyone was right, that because I was a woman it was going to cost me more and I shouldn’t focus on technology.
With a lot of support from my family and the Chicas en Tecnología community, I was able to finish the course and think about those emotions that I went through. I began to look around me and noticed that I was not the only one who had felt this way at some point in her life. From then on, I decided to make this problem visible for the people around me, and make girls who were going through the same situation understand that they were capable of dedicating themselves to the Tech field.
Inspire others with your own experience
RSM- Can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a speaker -and so young!- in a TED talk? What value do these types of events have from your point of view?
PR-When I was 6, I was diagnosed with High Intellectual Abilities, better known as “gifted children”. The reality is that I suffered a lot during my school period because of this issue. Learning technology was my grounding cable to stop suffering so much at school and be happy with extracurricular activities, connecting with other people who had the same interests as me.
As I told you before, being aware of the existing gender gap in the area of technology made me put aside my shyness and tell my story to other girls. The confidence I gained as a speaker in the technology field made me realize that I could implement these skills in any other field. This is how I decided to apply to give a TED talk, in which I would tell my story as a student with High Abilities. I knew that surely there were people like me, who had suffered or were now suffering from having to “fit in” at school.
Today, I receive messages thanking me for my participation as a speaker in different events. People tell me that the no longer feel alone in their situations. It reminds me of the importance of oratory and why I do it.
RSM-What ways do you think could be used to bring and support more young women in Tech?
PR– From my experience, I could say that the most important thing to bring young women closer to technology is the community. Knowing organizations or individuals who share their experiences, contacting them and generating these links helps us feel less alone and more motivated to dedicate ourselves to this beautiful world of technology.
I also believe that some educational plan, -a plan that encourages students to find their passions outside of the classical curriculum core subjects, making it easier to create these communities-, should be implemented.
Tearing down inclusion barriers in the workplace
Contributions of young women in Tech
RSM- What concrete contributions are women making in your field? What would be their potential? And their challenges?
PR-I see more and more young women participating in activities related to technology and sharing their experiences. This seems to me as one of the greatest contributions being made in my field. I know many girls who, before seeing other young women in technology, did not think they were capable of being part of this environment.
Enduring sexist comments, being the only one in your circle who studies technology or sharing stories through public speaking and social media is a challenge for many of these young women who are fostering change.
It fascinates me to see how many leave their comfort zone to dedicate themselves to sharing their experiences with other people, and thus promote more young women in technology.
You may connect to Paloma on LinkedIn