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Profile: Ix-chel Ruiz, Canoo Engineering

“We need to increase the awareness of the benefits and challenges of diversity”

Dominik Mohilo
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Ix-chel Ruiz of Canoo Engineering.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Ix-chel Ruiz of Canoo Engineering.

Ix-chel Ruiz,  Senior Software Developer at Canoo Engineering

Ix-chel Ruiz has developed software application & tools since 2000. Her research interests include Java, dynamic languages, client-side technologies, and testing. She is an assiduous traveler, a Java Champion, an Open Source advocate, a public speaker, and a mentor.

What got you interested in technology?

I suppose where usually passions begin, at home. I was inspired by my father an Electronics and Communications Engineer. He could pull apart any device and fix it. I was equally amazed and puzzled by that ability. He was a patient teacher, mentor, and coach. I learned from him to imagine how things work, and how should they work. Later on, while still in High School I was lucky enough to work in one of the most advanced computer laboratories in Latin America as part of a Scholarship program. When I had to decide my profession I was torn between designing motherboards, processors, and IC or working with computers. I ended up doing both!

My first role model was my father, but I was inspired by teachers, some female, that were profoundly dedicated to their vocation.

Inevitable bumps in the road

I faced some bias during college. There were not enough women in the program I choose. Some teachers and students were always skeptical about the ability, intelligence or performance of the few women who venture down this path. I have to say, most of the obstacles in my professional career have been in the recent years, they seem to increase proportionally with roles and responsibilities.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

Sadly I have to say yes. Some colleagues and managers had at times misappropriate ideas and/or achievements. I have witnessed, in more than one occasions, the disqualification of an idea due to the gender or personality of the proponent instead of the experience, knowledge of the author or the ideas’ efficiency and value. Ignoring suggestions or comments happen quite often during meetings.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

One evening during a social event at JavaOne, perhaps three or four years ago I was talking to the organizers of QCon Brazil. One of them mentioned that they were actively looking for female speakers because “we all need role models”. He hated that his female colleagues were disregarded, and he wanted to showcase more success stories. At that point in time, I wasn’t in the spotlight. I was happy working behind the scenes and even though plenty of people in the industry knew me, the fact I’m a software developer was not known. Having the support of people like Andres Almiray and Kirk Pepperdine and their constant encouragement to develop a more public image. They nudge me towards sharing knowledge on a bigger scale, not only at UnConferences but also at international conferences.

Challenges

In my opinion, the most significant challenges women in tech have to face are “impostor syndrome” and “double bind”.

Impostor syndrome

Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is
dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
Double bind (unconscious interlocking of stereotypes)
The female gender role is based on the stereotype that women are nice and kind and compassionate,” says social psychologist Alice Eagly. By contrast, she says, “in a leadership role, one is expected to take charge and sometimes at least to demonstrate toughness, make tough decisions, be very assertive in bringing an organization forward, sometimes fire people for cause, etc.”
So what’s a woman to do? Be nice and kind and friendly, as our gender stereotypes about women require? Or be tough and decisive, as our stereotypes about leadership demand? To be one is to be seen as nice, but weak. To be the other is to be seen as competent, but unlikable.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

In my most recent talk “One size fits all?! Not really!” I discuss diversity. In the study “The mix that matters” by the Boston Consulting Group and the Technical University of Munich, a positive correlation between gender diversity and innovation revenue, is shown. Ideas may be redundant in homogenous teams regardless of how outstanding their academic background is. Innovation requires an extended pool of skill, knowledge, and experience and that could be easily achieved by creating more diverse teams. There will be challenges, but also space for growth and the benefits exceed the effort.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

I believe some results are already here! What we still require, is a critical mass. I also think what we need is to increase the awareness of the benefits and challenges of diversity. On the other hand, understanding our personalities, beliefs, and bias will help us expand our perspective. I also believe that by cherishing the differences and building trust in physiologically safe environments, we will build more successful and balanced lives.

Tips & tricks

Never give up! This industry is fun, full of puzzles, challenges and learning opportunities. We need you!

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Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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