Women in Tech Why IT needs more female role models

In the interview, Anja Schumann, CEO and founder of moinworld, talks about outdated clichés and why it pays to shape the future as a female “techie”.

Anja Schumann is the founder of Women Techmakers in Hamburg; she also founded the NGO moinworld in January 2016 to promote women in IT professions.

Women in Tech: On 25 October, the NGO moinworld e.V. is going to launch a new short film series on women in IT. Five female role models give very personal insights into their everyday life while studying or working in this field. Laura Burau, IT trainee at Hermes Germany, is one of the women featured. In the interview, Anja Schumann, CEO and founder of moinworld, talks about outdated clichés and unconscious bias, and why it pays to shape the future as a female “techie”.

Anja, you founded moinworld and the Women Techmakers initiative in Hamburg in January 2016. How did that come about?

Back then, I had just started my last start-up and found myself in the role of the CTO. While looking for a meetup, I realised that I would have to carve out my own world. There was nothing in the tech meetup scene with which I truly felt comfortable. It was also only then that I noticed how male-dominated the tech scene is.

In founding the meetup, I wanted to start a movement that showed that things could be done differently. I managed to get Google as the first partner of the meetup. That is also where our first name comes from: “Women Techmakers” – that is the name of Google’s global diversity initiative.

How did you get involved in IT and the tech scene? Was this already an interest when you had to choose your direction of study and your career?

I studied business administration in Marburg. When it came to choosing my major subjects, it was actually a man who took me to the programming course offered by the department of business informatics. I did not have great expectations of the course and was convinced that I would just be surrounded by nerds. I was the only woman back then, but I stayed in the class anyway – also because I was convinced that IT was the foundation for everything else that interests me.

After I graduated, Tchibo Logistics was my first employer. Later, I transferred within Tchibo to the company’s e-commerce department. After six years with Tchibo, I had the opportunity to set up my own department in the area of direct sales at Medion in Essen. Three years later I returned to Hamburg with my own start-up idea. This start-up – a platform through which people could exchange clothing – was ultimately a non-starter, but it led to the founding of Women Techmakers and moinworld.

With the new short film series, you specifically address the new generation of women in IT. Why is that a special concern for you?

Women are a minority in IT, but half of the world’s population is female. IT affects our lives and offers countless opportunities for shaping them. It would be wasted potential if all the ideas that affect our future are developed and implemented only by a small, very homogeneous group.

But surely there must be a reason for the “gender gap”. Why are so many young women and girls still reluctant to pursue studies in the STEM academic fields?

The PISA study shows that even girls who do well in science subjects do not have the self-confidence to value their own skills in this area.

I have personally experienced how it affects you when you believe that which your environment conveys to you. I was really bad at science at school. Luckily, that changed later – and that was mainly because I met great women with whom I could identify and who were role models for me. “You can’t be what you cannot see” is true.

So, the film is about fighting unconscious bias and showing how diverse and creative IT is – especially for women?

Yes. For example, our members organise workshops at schools where female students can experiment with IoT (the Internet of Things). When it comes to IT and logic, 14-year-old girls are incredibly fit. And yet they cannot see themselves in a technical profession later. When you ask them, their impressions of IT are the same that I used to have. They imagine anti-social nerds and a daily working life in which one communicates mainly with a black screen.

These perceptions are not the reality. Due to the complex tasks that one has to solve in IT, it is more important to be able to work in a team, communicate and find solutions to problems together with others than in any other area. And yes, there are entirely normal women who also work in this field. They have not mutated into nerds! These are the women we want to showcase, so that the visible image of the IT world can change.

And what about the men?

Men also take part in our events. It is my belief that mixed teams are best at working together. And I am also very proud that we had a gender-neutral distribution of 50% women and 50% men at our blockchain conference. It is an environment in which learning about new technologies is fun.

What does that mean for your new short film series? Are there only women, or does a man also sometimes stray into the setting?

The protagonists of the first four films are women – that’s what it’s all about! There are also ideas for further films and enquiries from companies that support the project and want to make their developers visible as role models. Maybe a men’s team will also speak up. Stay tuned!

The series starts on 25 October and will first be shared in four episodes over the social media channels of moinworld e.V. – Laura Burau, IT trainee at Hermes Germany, will speak on 13 December.

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