Today, February 11th, is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This is a day to recognise that we need more girls and women in science and technology.
The day is initiated by United Nations Women, an entity dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment. UN Women was established in 2010 to accelerate progress on meeting the needs for gender equality worldwide.
What is United Nations Women?
United Nations Women (UN Women) supports the UN Member States by setting global standards for achieving gender equality. They also work with governments and civil society to design laws, policies, services and programmes to ensure that these standards are effectively implemented—and that they benefit girls and women worldwide.
As an IT company, we see the need for gender equality in this industry every day. That is why we are one of the partnering companies of the Finnish women coding program Mimmit Koodaa: An initiative that aims to break the stereotype that coding is only for men.
The program offers easily accessible and free-of-charge coding workshops, networking opportunities, and training for women who are interested in coding but do not have any previous experience.
The Mimmit Koodaa program has a long-term goal of giving future generations an equal opportunity to study and work within IT in Finland, especially the software industry. This way, they can help close the gender gap.
We talked to the Program Coordinator of Mimmit Koodaa, Milja Köpsi, about the importance of encouraging more girls and women to choose the tech industry, how the Mimmit Koodaa program started and what results they have seen so far.
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“We need more people who understand the target group to develop products and solutions.”
“I hate it when someone says to me that women are not interested in technology. Of course they are. The problem is that they have never had the opportunity because we haven’t been inclusive. I’m 45 years old now, and having worked in the IT industry for six years I know exactly why women don’t see technology as a possibility,” says Milja Köpsi.
She is the program coordinator of Mimmit Koodaa, a program powered by the Finnish Software and E-business Association together with its member companies. The association aims to support business leaders, technical leaders and CEOs in the software business.
Milja explains that during the thirty years the association has existed, it’s become very clear how male-dominated the software industry in Finland is:
“Four or five years ago, there was a lot of discussion about the lack of talent in the tech industry. Newspapers started writing articles about the need for more talents and professionals to develop software and the payment rate. What they did not talk about were the reasons why there weren’t enough talents—the gender gap in the industry.
So, if we need more talent, why don’t we ask women to join us? Women, just like men, use different types of software in their private life and work life, and they should also be part of developing it,” says Milja.
She points to the Oura smart ring as an example where it would be beneficial to include women in the development of the product. Oura is a smart ring that measures a person’s body functions to let users know when they are sick, and other things such as how to improve their endurance.
In many ways, it’s like a fitness watch, only that you use it as a ring instead.
“The problem with the ring in earlier years was that it didn’t understand the menstruation cycle. So, it was always saying to users that they were sick and gave advice on what actions to take to get better. It is a really good example of why we need more people who understand the target group to develop products and solutions.
“If we really want to develop great products and services, we need to understand the target group and you have to get that knowledge from somewhere.
So, it’s not only about gender. We also need the perspectives, experiences and wisdom of older people, women, males, non-binary, different nationalities and races. Diversity is one key to getting more knowledge.”
The beginning of Mimmit Koodaa
One day, the Finnish Software and e-business Association got an email from a woman named Vlada Laukkonen who wanted to learn how to code so that she could create a game for kids.
Her company didn’t have the money to invest in her learning, so Vlada reached out to the Finnish Software and e-business Association:
“Vlada reached out to us to see if we could organise something to support women who wanted to learn more about technology. At that point, I think the group consisted of 600 women, so it was quite significant.”
Together with the CEO of the Finnish Software and E-business Association, Rasmus Roiha, Milja asked eight companies to join them in this initiative to create one workshop each.
“There is a stereotype about the tech industry that it’s a really hard industry to get into and that you need to be somewhat of a mathematical genius to take part in it. But with the practical workshops, the participants saw that they could learn different things—and master them. It’s really a quick way to smash the stereotypes about gender and technology.”
When starting out, they were hoping for a total of 100 women attending these workshops during the first year. What they ended up with was more than 800 women queuing to participate—and that was only for one of several workshops hosted that year.
“It was obvious that women are interested in technology—and that this is not the problem,” says Milja with excitement.
“The software industry has always targeted young boys. We have always talked about the industry just revolving around the technology itself. Instead, we should talk about what technology enables. Technology enables love and sex with the Tinder app. It helps people do their work and stay in touch with their families. It helps with climate change and minimising food loss.”
She emphasises that we need to start including everyone in showing the possibilities technology opens up for:
“If you put a kid into an empty room with only car toys, it’s obvious that he or she will show interest in this and start playing with it. The same goes for women and technology: If you show women and young girls the options they have within the tech industry, it’s a much better chance that they will want to try it out.
If people don’t know about the options, how are they supposed to become interested? Even though we live in Finland, there are still lots of teachers saying that tech is not for girls. This is bullshit and we need to stop saying these things because there are 10,000 women who have signed up for the Mimmit Koodaa newsletter because they want to hear more about the possibilities in the software industry.
There are still a lot of people holding on to these gender stereotypes. Really, there is no reason why not everyone should be contributing to developing software because we need everyone. I know that not every woman who is attending this program will become a developer but I’m hoping that they might become a UX designer, a recruiter or perhaps a product owner because there is a lot of work to be done and we need them all.”
The importance of role models and a strong community
Milja explains that one of the main challenges is that the target audience of this program, women, often thinks that technology is only about coding.
“With this program, we can show examples of ordinary women who are working in different kinds of positions in the tech industry—and not just the geniuses you read about in interviews who are creating awesome but complicated stuff.”
With Mimmit Koodaa, they present a range of different positions in tech, for example, UX design, accessibility, product management, and cyber security.
“In these webinars and workshops, we give them new skills and encourage them to try different paths to find what they are most interested in. When you’re an adult trying to find a new career path, you can’t just hop on some study for three years. So, we make the transfer easier with different events and possibilities to network with like-minded people because our participants might be the only woman in her friend group who is interested in tech.
Also, all the content in these events and training comes from the companies, the community and volunteers. This makes the program raw, honest and modern.”
An important aspect of the Mimmit Koodaa program is exactly this: the strong community. Here, women can connect with others who understand their worries and struggles. Milja says that many women are still working in low-paid industries, they are less often offered leadership positions, and their paychecks are smaller.
“There are a lot of women that are eager to get a better job, get better salaries, and get more opportunities to compete for leadership positions. The challenge is that when we are recruiting new talent to the IT industry, we are always focusing the message on young people.
But these women have been working for many years, and have great skills. They also have a lot of knowledge about the industries in which the software is created, which means that they often have valuable input on how to develop and improve these software solutions, no matter if that is for the food market, health care industry or other things.”
“We are really seeing the number of women in the IT sector growing, which is why we have kept on running this program.”
A lot has happened since the Mimmit Koodaa program started five years ago.
“In 2021, we had 1,262 attendees on our webinars, we had workshops with 435 people, and we had two virtual events with more than 2,000 unique visitors. More than 10,000 women have also subscribed to our newsletter.”
Milja explains that the challenge is to save a seat for everyone that is interested in participating:
“It’s challenging because in workshops you can only let a relatively small number of people in, and the companies hosting these workshops don’t have the possibility to run them too many times. This is why there are many women in a queue for these workshops,” says Milja.
So, with all these women eager to participate and learn new things, has the program managed to get more women into the software and tech industry?
“We get a lot of messages from women who have participated in the program about how they were encouraged to attend studies, and how they have found new workplaces. So, we are really seeing the number of women in the IT sector growing. That’s the reason why our program has been going on for five years now—because we see the results all the time,” concludes Milja with a smile on her face.
Status of women in science and technology today
Gender equality is a basic human right. Achieving it also has enormous socio-economic ramifications. It fuels thriving economies and drives both productivity and growth.
Yet, it has always been a challenge to promote gender equality globally. Why? Because many women today still lack access to education and decent work. They are faced with gender wage gaps. Women all over the world are underrepresented in economic and political decision-making processes.
Even today, we see a huge need to increase gender equality within STEM subjects and careers: science, technology, engineering, and maths.
The creation of UN Women in July 2010 marked a historic step in accelerating the organisation’s goals towards both gender equality and the empowerment of women.
The establishment of UN Women came as a result of the UN reform agenda which brought together resources and mandates for greater impact. This builds upon, and merges, the important work of four previously distinct parts of the United Nations system:
- Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW)
- International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW)
- Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)
- United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
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