The conference “Women in Technology” saw discussions held and solutions sought to address concerns which plague the Estonian IT sector more broadly and the involvement of Women in technology more specifically.
Why does the share of women in Estonian IT companies only reach 20% and just 10% in the most profitable jobs in the sector? Why have gender stereotypes deepened in technology and what is the role of the education system here?
These and other important questions were addressed during the virtual conference “Women in Technology” held today and organised by the Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences, Telia Estonia and Ülemiste City.
“Belief in the spirit of technology has made our small country into great e-Estonia. We are considered a world leader and an example. We are known. We have the most unicorns per population,” noted Prime Minister Kaja Kallas in a video address. “At the same time, it is sad that a conference like “Women in Technology is needed at all. And yet it is needed, because just a fifth of Estonian IT specialists are women. There is no objective reason why this should be the case. Gender does not determine how well a person works or how committed one is. Matters Only what is in one’s head and one’s heart.”
From a “mathematician” failing in Math lessons to becoming the first female millionaire
Eight leaders in the area of technology shared their stories and thoughts at the conference, some of whom would not have expected to make such a career choice at all. Thus, the speakers unanimously declared that if one has a passion, then it is never too late to start with any business. Especially in a field where the range of possibilities is so wide.
“At first I did not know anything about computers, and I considered it a profession for boys who are computer geeks. In high school, my math grade was between failing and passing grades. I was at war with a teacher who did not even want to allow me to take the state exam. At the university, I was already helping others,” recalled Kristel Kruustük, the founder of Testlio and the youngest female millionaire in Estonia at the age of 24.
“I was very passionate about the field of testing. Since there were only problems and no solutions, Testlio was created. True, I did not know anything about business then. I shed tears at every negative feedback. But now I look at every problem as an opportunity,” said one of the driving forces behind the company, which has attained a global impact in eight years.
TalTech’s Professor of Biorobotics and Vice-Rector for Research Maarja Kruusmaa pointed out that there is no scientific basis for thinking that either boys or girls are stronger in mathematics.
“I present you with a non-scientific hypothesis. Women tend to underestimate themselves and men tend to overestimate themselves. Self-confidence can become crucial when faced with hesitation: am I good enough to go study mathematics or physics? School teachers should notice this and deal with it in a targeted manner,” Kruusmaa highlighted.
She said that today’s young generation is aware and responsible. “The world needs saving. Whether we are talking about global warming, nature pollution or any major issue. None of them are solved without engineers. Good technical skills allow you to do great things,” Kruusmaa posed.
Why could girls not play with a robot instead of a doll?
Taavi Kotka, who founded a technology school for girls named HK Unicorn Squad a few years ago, was pleased that today there are already 1,500 students.
“In the fifties, more than 90% of programmers were women. This rosy situation turned dark because of stereotypes around gender roles. These are due to attitudes of parents,” described the renowned IT visionary. “Think about it: why should girls not play with robots instead of dolls and go to a robotics club instead of ballet or piano lessons? Girls want to learn about technology, but for the reasons given, they are at least a year and a half behind the boys.”
According to Kotka, technology should be a part of the curriculum of every general education school. “If we see the ICT sector as the driving force between Estonia’s growth, we must put a stop to the current labour shortage and recruit talent. Are we bringing in people from abroad or adding to our own capital,” he posed the rhetorical question. “I see a leap in development and great interest. I hope that the new pilot schools will be born this autumn.”
Birgy Lorenz, TalTech’s cyber security researcher and IT development manager at the Pelgulinna Gymnasium, pointed out a concern of what is happening in the computer classes of our schools? “Are pupils there just clickers or creators? The involvement and guidance of the youth is weak, especially outside school. It is also not helpful that teachers differentiate between boys and girls based on readiness.”
“We are still in the throes of strong stereotypes. Society pushes us into frames and suffocates courage. I go to schools and events to talk as much as possible because I feel that I have been given a voice and I have to use it. We must not be afraid of failure under any circumstances,” Kristel Kruustük encouraged.
Liina Lass, the founder of the venture capital fund The Better Fund, Kristel Leif, the CEO of Solaride, the company building the first solar car in Estonia, and Andre Visse, the Technology Manager of Telia Estonia, also talked about their experiences.“We need technology everywhere, including real estate development. We create virtual buildings that allow us to evaluate different user experiences. I hope that in the near future, robots based on artificial intelligence will be able to detect if there are deviations from the design or in the building. The share of digitalisation will also definitely increase,” said Ursel Velve, Chairman of the Management Board of Mainor Ülemiste.
All conversations held with moderator Eeva Esse during the conference can be seen HERE. Photos by: Karli Saul