27. Balance IT. Empowering Women in Tech with Natalie Pilling and Aleksandra Bis (Dare IT)

"Natalie and Aleksandra came up with a simple idea, and it caught like wildfire. They prepared 11 slots for their first mentorship round and they received... over 800 applications! If someone thinks that because we're in the 21st century there is no need to fight for equality in the workplace, Dare IT proves just how much initiatives like these are still needed." Agata Solecka, Host.

Topics discussed:

Please tell us in a few words what Dare IT is all about.

How did you two start working together? 

Why is it daring or difficult for women to enter into a professional career in IT? 

Why do you put such an emphasis on mentoring?

As part of the project, participants can count on mentoring in such IT areas as UX, UI, Web Development, Data Science, Product Management,Digital Marketing and more. Can you tell us a bit more about all the specificpaths women could consider in IT? 

Why is it important to help women penetrate the IT industry?What difference does it make who’s really writing the code? 

What are some of the biggest successes of Dare IT?

What plans do you have for Dare IT in the next few years? 

I can imagine getting into IT being more difficult for women than for men. But I can also imagine it being even more difficult for women who were not brought up with a smartphone in their hand, women of a certain age. Doyou find any women of the older generation (baby boomers, etc.) interested in career change or is it mainly young women that you see entering the program? 

So how do you make a workplace more diverse? If I’m a leader what can I do?


Transcript:

Agata Solecka: Hi Natalie. Hi Alexandra. Welcome. Okay. So let's start with the basic, but most important question. What is dare "it", or should I say Dare "IT"? 

[00:01:07] Natalie Pilling: [00:01:07] You can say both actually. Hi Agata, It's a pleasure to be here. Yeah, you can say both. That's kind of the idea behind it that you can play with. I can see  you took on a similar approach. So in a nutshell what's Dare IT about: we tried to solve the diversity issue and the talent issue in the IT industry, all in one go because we came to ask ourselves that okay, there's a clearly a lack of talent, a lot of lack of people in the industry. And at the same time, you have such a small representation of women. So 17% it's like, well, Why don't you solve both things together? So what we do is we support women in finding their first job in the industry. And at the same time connect them with companies and help the companies fill in their vacancies. How do we do that? That's the big question here probably to approach us. So we've started to build a community, and a very active one actually. And second thing is- as part of this community, we've built a mentorship program and this is now in the third edition where we have 120 mentors and 127 mentees.

[00:02:26] That's grown quite big and the mentors are supporting of course mentees and finding their first job in the industry for all those women that unfortunately couldn't get into the program. And just to give you an example, we have usually about 1,500 to 2000 applications per edition.

[00:02:46] Agata Solecka: Wow. Oh, that's a huge number. wow. 

Natalie Pilling: those women who don't get into the program, we've built a community, as I was saying, mostly on Facebook. So we have a closed group where we have about 4,000 women. Now we've added a Slack group, which is a little bit more interactive where we almost have 1000 members and we engage in general that same knowledge sharing initiatives.

[00:03:10] We also run a newsletter. We run monthly or bi-monthly talks. Where experts can share their knowledge. And in general, we try to support women in networking with each other and seeing role models or seeing women who they can aspire to be. And as mentioned before, also connect to companies. 

[00:03:31] Agata Solecka: [00:03:31] And how long has the Dare IT community/organization actually existed?

[00:03:37] Aleksandra Bis: [00:03:37] So that's three years now. So we started in 2018 at the beginning. So we were very excited because there's not to be mentioned the growth is I actually love it. We actually go through, I think, 300 % growth year to year in terms of the size of our community. So you mentioned we do usually get almost up to 2000 applications for edition. And it's worth mentioning that in the first edition we had just 11 mentors. So let's say the needs that we saw versus what we could actually provide at the time was very different. So we were happy that we managed to grow this much this year. 

[00:04:13] Agata Solecka: [00:04:13] Wow. Wow. So the need was really there. That's really reassuring too. That must be a great feeling. Yeah. Yeah. That you're filling an actual gap. Right. That's really not there. 

[00:04:26] Natalie Pilling: [00:04:26] It's reassuring. Sometimes it makes me a little bit sad as well, because it makes you wonder why there is such a need, but focusing on the left side. Yeah. It's great to be able to be able to support so many.

[00:04:42] Aleksandra Bis: [00:04:42] But I think it was also extremely reassuring where we, when we actually started, because when we launched our first edition, it was like, Oh, we have 11 mentors. So please let them be at least 30 applications. So, you know, it will be okay or we have some applications to choose from. And then we got over 800.

[00:05:00] So actually the sole fact that what we're doing or trying to do is. You know, something that people see value in or solve actual problems. This was also very, you know, a confidence boost slash a stressor because also when you have so many obligations that people that we can't really support at the time, then you start thinking, okay, what are the activities that we could do in order to scale or help?

[00:05:20]Hence as I said, there is a lot of educational activities and community creation around it. 

[00:05:26] Agata Solecka: [00:05:26] So I think this, this moves us nicely into the next question, which is how did you two start working together in that case. 

[00:05:35]Aleksandra Bis: [00:05:35] Okay. So we actually knew each other from EL Passion. That's a digital design agency based in Warsaw where we've both worked at, Natalie at the time was the CEO. I was a senior UX designer. So this is kind of where we met, but the start, I would say. Yeah, it's pretty. I mean, I find it hilarious now I find it hilarious but at the time it was pretty grim. So basically there was a moment where I thought I'm going to have bone cancer because this is kind of the diagnosis I got, that this might be the case.

[00:06:07] So of course, spoiler, I'm fine. Nothing that's happened, et cetera, et cetera. But over the course of two or three weeks, I did go through a full-blown oncology diagnosis. Which made me think very hard about some of my life choices slash what I'm doing or will do. And given the fact that at the time I was already supporting some of these starting designers or had this need to, let's say help more people. I started to think, okay, how could I scale basically what I'm doing, you know, to to make it grow and help more people. And one day, literally over lunch at Ms. Kimchi, we were talking with not Toby, and then she shared her stories less, you know, she just basically shared that it's yeah, we all know it.

[00:06:50] It's pretty annoying to be the only woman in the room. In a lot of cases, not only the only CEO female CEO, but also the only woman in general and that she would love to do something about that. And I was like, hey, I have this idea of maybe starting like a mentorship program. Maybe that could be a starting point.

[00:07:05]And everything started super fast. From that point on, we literally whiped up a website then I think in three days or something. And then we launched this first, very MVP slash gorilla approach event, which was promoted only for friends on word of mouth, basically on Facebook. And as mentioned, we had just 11 spots and we got over 800 applicants.

[00:07:28] Agata Solecka: [00:07:28] That's amazing that this is something that was maybe of course not a positive event in your life, quite negative, but at the same time it really made you, like you said, reevaluate your life choices and really probably accelerate some of the actions that maybe would have taken you much longer to place your bet on and say okay I'm doing it, fife is short, you know. So one more question. How big is the team now, or is it still only you two ladies that are running the whole show? 

[00:07:59] Natalie Pilling: [00:07:59] I have one more person who is working with us part-time. Her name is Martyna Broda, she's our community manager. So she's mostly taking care of the events that we are running right now as part of the mentorship program, but in general. So I was mentioning that during talks, this is a series of online webinars. And to be honest we can't forget our amazing mentors because in the end they are the ones who support our mentees in their journey. So they might not be, let's say officially the Dare IT team, but actually they kind of are.

[00:08:38] Agata Solecka: [00:08:38] Why is it daring or difficult for women to enter into a professional career in IT? 

[00:08:45] Natalie Pilling: [00:08:45] I think one of the first ones is that if you look at it, there's less women who graduate from technical degrees. So by definition, They will be entering the IT profession as a career changer. Okay. And I guess career change is definitely possible. And I would say that the industry is one of the ones, which is most suited for a career change, but it's still hard because it requires you to rethink yourself. It requires you to start from the beginning, you may have been the more advanced expert level. You go back to being a junior. So in a way you dare, right? Because you rethink your professional past. 

[00:09:30] Aleksandra Bis: [00:09:30] And I think the other big point is one that's fairly, I think, noticeable or known, is the stereotypes that women might face. And also some of the lack of exposure, let's say to different types of jobs or certain extensive studies or reports saying that for example, only 20% of female students can name  famous women working in IT versus let's say 70% of technical students being able to name a man. Or that women and young women, for example, being in high school, they're not only not encouraged, let's say to pursue a certain career path, but also actively discouraged.

[00:10:05] And it doesn't necessarily come from a bad place as of like, "Oh, you can't do it", but maybe "this will be harder for you". Or, you know, people just don't see themselves in certain situations. This is why we're so big on the role modeling effect to kind of start fostering the self-efficacy to get a job. In it, one of the big pillars, it's actually role modeling effects. So as Natalie mentioned, just providing female role models to help basically girls envision themselves in this kind of roles and to see that, okay, if a given person that's similar to me was able to pursue a certain path. This is us. Okay for me to do it or basically achievable. So that's definitely one of the big points.

[00:10:44] And also like to say that it's really not that we're trying to force everyone to start the job in IT and, you know, picture it as this problem-free, amazing world. It's just that we would really love to, let's say, get back some of the career options or choices that women might not see or take into consideration or actively exclude themselves from them because of some stereotypes that they might be facing.

[00:11:10] Natalie Pilling: [00:11:10] Yeah, I would add that it's a bit like the chicken and the egg problem, but one of the issues I see is that there's a lack of female leaders also. So I'm, you know, we're, we're kind of. Even if we try very hard to, to sort out our bias or to leave our or side, we are human.

[00:11:29] So we usually will hire people who are more like us, or we will promote people who are more like us. So again, if you, even if you try very hard to push this out, and even if you try to put some systems in place at this. If you have for instance leadership where generally a team, which is very male, and then you have a recruitment process and a spite of candidates.

[00:11:54] There are, there are women in the process, the other part of the process, but then they might not get hired because there is this underlying bias that we tend to kind of work to work together with people who are with us. So again, as I said, there's a bit of a chicken and the egg, because then we'll just say we can get more women.

[00:12:16] It should get less hard for women to enter the industry when there are more women in. Let's say positions, decision-making positions, where do you start? But yeah, that's definitely one of the the hurdles here. It can be, it can be over how the site you can, it can be overcome. And I think we're gonna touch on that a little bit later, but it doesn't make it easier for sure.

[00:12:39]Aleksandra Bis: [00:12:39] Often it might also have to do with a certain group dynamics that might. You know, happened in a more homogeneous group. So for example, if you were the only, let's say woman in the group or in a given team, you might experience, let's say, put this straight forward: there might be certain sexist jokes or comments, or in general things that probably, if there were more women wouldn't happen or the group dynamic would be a bit different, and this is something I for exp.

[00:13:13] I've experienced a lot of me like the shift, like how the dynamic changes, where the, let's say number of people in the certain team differs in terms of for example, their gender. And then those are bit might have to do, but given the lifestyle that's sometimes it's promoted or associated with this kind of like tech startup kind of boyish culture.

[00:13:32] You know, people not really having. Or at least talking from my experience, I've never worked or worked in the company. For example, when there were young moms or, you know, people actually having children or being a bit older. So also for women, for example, that have kids are over for these, sometimes there a question of, can I even do this kind of thing or" will I fit within the group" or "would the employer actually want me to be in the group?"

[00:13:56] Because I literally come across talking to some business owners saying like a concrete type. You know, a mom because my whole team is 24 and they're young and how  will she fit? Well, she got so, you know, got me a bit mad, but then you know, that those are also these things to take under consideration. So it can be scary because you know that while you might stand up for you might be different.


[00:14:23] Agata Solecka: [00:14:23] It's for certain, a very complex issue. And you've touched upon many, many important things: Fitting in, representation. When I think about IT, first images that come to my mind are, you know, Mark Zuckerberg Steve Jobs, not necessarily Melinda Gates, you know, she's not necessarily the first image that that pops into my mind.

[00:14:42]So you're absolutely right. There's so many little aspects of what makeup, you know, Whether or not, you actually envision yourself doing that and then making that choice. Right. Let's, let's maybe move on to the aspect of mentorship, you've mentioned already before, this is one of the pillars on which dare it stands. I also have personally two mentors. But I still remember a time where I didn't even realize that having mentors is, is a good thing and that it's a it's for regular people like me. So. Tell me why young professionals should consider having a mentor. Why do you put such an emphasis on mentorship?

[00:15:29] Natalie Pilling: [00:15:29] The first reason why we put such an emphasis or why we really promote this as the coming back to this idea of representation and role modeling, because it gives you the chance to really work together with, especially if it's a female mentor. So. That's something maybe I should clarify here. So our mentorship program is a woman to woman mentorship program. So all the mentees are assigned female mentors. So this is a chance to get this role modeling effect in practice because on a weekly basis, you'll get to work with a woman, someone who of course is different to you, but this may be more similar than (this may sound obvious) but you know, someone with whom maybe you can identify more and that gives you a way to ask questions, but also to see that actually, well, you know, most of our mentors there.

[00:16:32] Amazing. They're very smart people. They're very, very good at what they do, but they're human, they're normal, they're normal people. And just as the mentees are, so this gives them a way to see this and this gives them a way to build self-confidence. Because they see someone else has done it and so they can do it too.

[00:16:50] And one thing that we also do with our mentor, most of our mentors are. Let's say one or two steps ahead of the mentees, meaning that the, for instance, we have mentees that went through the program two years ago and now our mentors. Right? So they still remember how it was so they can help them auntie, but at the same time, the mentee also see that, Oh, actually in two years time, or maybe in one year's time, I can be where she is.

[00:17:17] It's not, you know, in 10 years or in 15 years, it's quite reachable. And building on that also, why are we very strong on mentorship is mentorship is Two-way experience. Right? So the often we forget that the mentors gets a lot out of the mentorship as well. To be honest, the first time that I was a mentor, that was one of my biggest surprises.

[00:17:41] It was like, Oh my God, I learned so much about myself, about actually the industry, because I had to, you know convey knowledge in a certain way. And so it's a two-way street that empowers, let's say the chain of help mean meaning that because mentors, so mentors help mentees, mentees learn, then mentees can become mentors.

[00:18:07] So we, you know, we kind of expand the impact tree, let's call it how we can work work together. And it also kind of shapes attitudes because of this two way street. So you kind of you're always in this mindset that you can learn from others and that you can give something back 

[00:18:24] Aleksandra Bis: [00:18:24] just to touch on those three.

[00:18:25]Also two points that Natalie mentioned in terms of demistyfying Tech. On one hand, we want to show women you know, other women, people that we can identify with shows that we can literally do the same job, but at the same time, try to de-mystify Tech a bit. That's not some magic place, very abstractly difficult to learn, but it's literally a job like any other. You have to learn certain skills like any other job. And this is fairly doable if you just put your mind into it. So that's one point and then the other aspect of having to do work. Empowering. So we're very big. There's not very much in on this of providing this individual help, but also in the way that it could empower potential mentees.

[00:19:06] So why we think it's so crucial, especially at the beginning for young professionals when often. Maybe they, as you've mentioned yourself, like you've, didn't even know at the beginning that it might be something needed or, you know, you maybe haven't seen value at the beginning of the mentorship program or mentorships in general, while, especially at the beginning of the journey, having a mentor could immensely help you avoid making certain mistakes that all of us. Regret doing probably at the beginning of their career, or know that I could have done XYZ and then it will be so much faster to reach certain places. So this is also why we want to have this individual corporation to also in a way speed up, but also make the learning process slash career change more efficient for the mentees.

[00:19:49] Natalie Pilling: [00:19:49] Well, maybe one last point here from why is like, why are we pushing mentorship? I mean, what we do as a structured formal type of mentorship, right? You get assigned your mentor and your mentee, and you know that you are in this relationship. But I think we can all experience some level of mentorship or God give mentorship in our daily work lives or not only work lives actually.

[00:20:13] So. For instance, I had this experience in my first and my first job in the tech industry or big job in the tech industry. My bosses gave me a lot of responsibility and a lot of trust. I wouldn't say they were my mentors, but they kind of behaved in a bit of a mentor kind of way. And the fact that they were giving me the guidance and support, but also the room to develop my myself.

[00:20:46] So, you know, they were not the teacher, they were not in the sense of like a strict boss, but they gave me the way of learning and developing and the trust that actually I could do what I was doing. And I was. Even though I maybe wasn't an expert. And I know that for a fact that this really helped me later on when I actually stepped up to be CEO of El Passion as a sort of 50 people company, I had never been a CEO before. So, you know on paper, I didn't know how to do it, but because of the experiences, because of this kind of support I had received before, I knew that. I could muster difficult situations and I could not step up to the game. So I think this is why mentors are really powerful because they can kind of, yeah.

[00:21:37] Agata Solecka: [00:21:37] I love the idea of, you know, sending down the elevator. Okay. So let's talk a little bit about the profession and the career of being in IT. From what I read participants who get into the Dare IT program can develop themselves in areas such as User Experience, Web development, Data Science, Product Management, Digital Marketing sounds like a lot of different paths. So can you tell us a bit more about these paths and how many there are and whether some are more specific to women or actually it doesn't matter. 

[00:22:13] Natalie Pilling: [00:22:13] Yeah. So I would say that in general, in Tech you have probably a million different career paths.And there's probably a new one coming up every single day. If you think about them, data scientists or data, the whole field of data science five years ago, or maybe even three years ago, people would be like, what, who? And now it's really becoming a very popular and very sought after role. So. within Dare IT, right now, we have, I think, in this edition 17 specializations.

[00:22:47] So, you know, the that's already quite a few. And as I said, this is just kind of the tip of the iceberg. We didn't choose those 17 because we think they're particularly suited for, for women. So I would say that any of those 17 or a million that you can find online are there for grabs for anyone?

[00:23:09] If you're a woman, a man, or undeclared that doesn't matter. And this kind of ties back into what I was saying before. We're really big on this notion of demystifying tech. So because of the fact that there are so many different options, so many different jobs, but also to be honest, so many different types of companies. So you could have an IT company that works in the automotive industry, but you can have an IT company that works in fashion or, you know, so there's really a place for any type of interests skills, but basically anyone I think could really find something. They would like in the industry.

Aleksandra Bis: [00:23:59]So in the sense it really depends what you as a person like. So coming back to the 17 specializations, we simply have them because this is the mentors that we recruit that are, that we selected for this program. So it came as a, as a kind of a science as How do you say it as it as a baggage?

[00:24:20] It comes with the package, not with the baggage. So yeah, I mean, we're really excited to be adding more also. So for instance what we did this year in a previous edition, we had a UX design as a whole past, but this year we split out between UX design and UX research.

[00:24:47] For instance, in the past we had Project Management. Now we have Project Management, Product Management and Scrum Master, for instance. So it's really becoming quite broad sometimes. Let's put it this way because it can be also very confusing as to, well, what's the difference between a, I dunno, a growth Ninja and a marketing specialist.

[00:25:14] We're a product designer and a UX UI designer. And it can be quite confusing, but actually there's quite, I would say there's enough resources that at least you can make a first assessment of what might suit you and what you might like, and then kind of, you know, research a little bit more in 

[00:25:38] Agata Solecka: [00:25:38] Yeah. I was just about to ask. So what if let's say I'm working in some, I'm a teacher, I'm an English teacher and I would like to move into IT. How do I even know which area would suit me if UX doesn't tell me anything. And I look at all these names and I just I'm overwhelmed at the beginning. What do I do? 

[00:26:01] Aleksandra Bis: [00:26:01] 60? I think that this is definitely an issue and a pain point that we come across a lot. Meaning that to be a hundred percent honest, even me, myself being a designer in the industry X years, I still come across certain job descriptions or. Hmm names that I'm like, what, like, what does that actually mean?

[00:26:21] Or crews a design ops or yeah, like, or here's a marketing designer, blah, blah. Like a lot of different job descriptions that might be very confusing. But still, I would say the first point would be to educate yourself on what it is that we could actually do. So this is also why we're trying to be broad with the offer. Let's say that we have within the mentorship program also to show that it is something bigger than just, let's say design and development that are actually so many different paths that you can take, depending on your interest skills, transferable skills that you might have from your previous job experience.

[00:26:58] As I wrote that you could. Actually, maybe it sounds a bit idealistic, but I really believe that there's really a job or role at the industry for everyone depending on what they would like to do or like to explore, but I'm not going to say it's easy. I would definitely encourage everyone interested in a specific path to read more about the path to join the community.

[00:27:18]I think that this year. This year, or let's say recently, it's so much easier to actually dive into a certain new area in it, because there are just so many materials. I remember, I know six, seven years back trying to start a as a UX designer. I literally could name just one place. And now the internet is just blooming with resources and paths and support groups. So I would just definitely take the advantage of of communities and people wanting to share and basically give back to the community. 

[00:27:50] Natalie Pilling: [00:27:50] And maybe even before that, I think like, to be honest, it's like any, any career change. I think that's the first step is. Let's say self-reflection or self analysis. So what do I like to do? What am I good at? What are the skills that I have right now? So going back, maybe to your teacher example, so let's say you're an English teacher, so probably you're pretty good with language or texts. Maybe you like to write yourself. Maybe you're good at editing. So you can, you know, kind of analyze yourself and then you can start Googling "jobs in IT with writing", let's say, and then you probably start to get a few hits. So you probably will get, I don't know, content marketer, or you might get a UX writer.

[00:28:43] Right. And in this kind of step-by-step I think you can really go and dig deeper. It's a bit of like a feedback loop also. So you read. We highly encourage people to try things out. So this is, I think a typically female traits to only want to start or try doing something when we feel we're a hundred percent prepared and ready.

[00:29:07] And so this is something that I think is really important here. So. Maybe you've come across the concept of UX writing. Think it's interesting. So maybe try to do a course or an exercise or something like this. I mean, or coding, maybe you want to do a one day coding workshops or some online free course. So what did he starts trying and fall into this feedback loop then? Do I like it? Do I not like it? And then go, go from there. 

[00:29:40] Agata Solecka: [00:29:40] That's really great advice. So let's talk about the mission. Why is it important to support women in breaking into the IT industry? Like why should we even care? What difference does it make? Who's actually writing the code. 

[00:29:58] Aleksandra Bis: [00:29:58] So I think that's one of the biggest driving forces I would say for us is also woven in our mission having to do with the fact that I really strongly believe that technology shapes the changes the world we live in and actually creates a whole different world happening simultaneously let's say on top of the real one. And we just, we just want women to be. Involved in that I didn't want them to build it and influence and actually avoid having some of the biases that might be, let's say designed into our everyday real life into also the digital sphere. So we were very big on the idea of creating inclusive products or actually fighting bias.

[00:30:35] Let's say a technology that might be created and. To be very, I mean, straightforward. It's not as if we assume that it's. It w I need technology or certain solution might have been done in bad faith. Sometimes you just may not think about certain cases or you may call them educators. It just because it's not always very easy for you to remember about certain groups that you don't belong to.

[00:30:59] And it's very natural, but then you have cases, for example, women not being able to get to women's lockers room, just because they're doctors and the system classifieds, all the doctors being male. So they just can't get to their dressing room. Or we have, for example Amazon's recruitment algorithm that ended up let's say assigning lower grading points to women applying, for example, to being programmers, just because, you know, the association between the word programmer and woman was not that strong or.

[00:31:31] Well on the example that makes me most mad, but I think it's also fairly vivid is that we have Siri or all the, you know, voice assistants that could tell jokes from literally day one, but even three years back, if you told them, for example, Siri, I was raped. They couldn't understand what you're saying.

[00:31:48] And that's in a world when every 73, 73 seconds, I think someone is a victim of a sexual assault. So usually this is. Those are the things that you might be more prone to understand if you might be a victim or experienced certain things. So this is why we think that having diversified project teams, creating certain products or is the most efficient

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