Celebrating International Womxn of Tech & Design ft. Irina Tsyganok @ Vogue


IWD2021, womxnintech, Technology...

How can we proactively make a change to achieve equality and inclusion in tech? It's International Women's Day in March and Orbis are dedicating the entire month to celebrating the womxn of Tech and Design. If we want more womxn in tech, we have to do more than want. Our team felt we needed to share stories from the industry, told by voices with first-hand experience. All of the exposure International Women's Day kicks up is critical, not just for our own education as a business, but also to support the exposure of gender equality and inclusion in tech. These stories are not told by a company or PR, or any other bias perspective. These are the real womxn of tech shaking up the industry. 

Irina, what has your personal journey into tech been like?

Working in tech hasn’t always been my dream, although I do have a degree in Computer Science now and I love my profession. Before going into tech, I studied a degree in economics and finance in my native Ukraine.

I had been raised in a country with very traditional views on the roles of men and women in society. While higher education was encouraged, the main goal for most girls was to marry well. As shocking as it sounds to me now, the ultimate benchmark of success for many women was not to have to work at all or to work part-time for entertainment.

Additionally, some professions were classified as being suited better for men and others for women. Perhaps not surprisingly, computing fell into the former category and didn’t even enter my radar when I was a teenager. Computing wasn’t taught at school.

It is difficult to deviate from the expectations of one’s environment if the alternatives aren’t clear - you don’t know what you don’t know.

So, it wasn’t until I moved to the UK in 2006 when my then-husband helped me widen my horizons and encouraged me into the field of technology.

I started my current journey as a mature Computer Science student with two young children, went on to become a software engineer and eventually took on more leadership responsibilities on my journey to where I am today.

What do you think leaders could do to help support gender equality within their teams?

To support gender diversity, retention of talent is as important as it’s attraction.

Raising the visibility of female role models, outreach activities focused on educating women about possible career paths within the technology sector, recruitment via graduate programs and coding boot camps, as well as mentoring and coaching – these are all effective methods of attracting young female talent or helping women change careers into tech.

I noticed that many progressive companies that care about gender equality are reasonably effective in attracting female talent. I have seen a definite increase in numbers of women who choose careers in STEM over the past years.

However, effectively supporting the progression of women into leadership roles remains a challenge - many women continue to dismiss great career opportunities or leave work altogether to prioritize parenting or caretaking duties. There are many factors that contribute to this on a societal level.

As leaders and organisations, we can make a positive impact by offering flexible working hours, fair compensation and balanced parental leave policies, plus coaching and mentoring for women and their managers.

Widening that point, how can businesses adapt to ensure they are enhancing women with their careers?

When I think about gender diversity in my teams, I emphasize the need for overall balance as opposed to the strict elevation of a particular gender or other underrepresented groups. I strive to create equal opportunities for all team members - men, women and other gender expressions and identities.

I make a conscious effort to recognise and deal with any biases and remain as objective as is humanly possible in any decisions I make that can impact careers of individuals on my teams.

I take time to study and respect the career aspirations of each individual, educate them about available options, guide and support them along the way to achieving their goals.

Today, 7 out of 21 software engineers on my team are women. This number is higher than in most organisations but it shows how much more work there is still to be done to achieve balance.

We helped one of these women switch to software engineering from her previous career by offering her an internship and ultimately a permanent role on the team.

The experience and the outcome had been extremely positive for her and for the team, and I think businesses can look at more retraining opportunities for their colleagues, especially in the wake of the redundancy-ridden pandemic that has put so many jobs at risk.

What are your top 3 tips for women looking to break into tech and design, or progress from their current position into a more senior role?

Now is the best time in history to enter the tech industry, as more and more employers value problem-solving skills and aptitude over university qualifications. There are plenty of free or very inexpensive learning online sources that can serve as a good entry point. And of course, coding bootcamps such as Makers Academy, which offer compact practical courses and often guarantee a job offer through their partnerships with the industry. 

As for stepping up into a more senior role - First, identify what that role is: for instance, is it a purely technical role or does it involve managing people?

Second, make your ambitions known to your manager, and work together with them to create a development plan to address any skill gaps that stand between you and the promotion.

Performance coaches like to say that success is 80% attitude and 20% skill. So, find the time to develop the growth mindset within you, learn from setbacks and don’t shy away from opportunities.

In tribute to IWD’s 2021 campaign, what do you choose to challenge?

Myself. This year I am applying to study an Executive MBA programme, which alongside my corporate job and a job being a single parent to my son, will definitely push my boundaries.

I would also like to engage with and mentor more women who are looking to enter the STEM field or grow professionally. I am excited and positive about the future ahead!

Fancy joining the discussion?

Orbis Connect are hosting various events dedicated to womxn in tech. 

Irina will be sitting on our panel for the 'Leadership for Women in Tech' event. 

Please join us. 

Sign up here