Women in Tech: “A higher proportion of women in our industry will change the way we think”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, we 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 Katrin Rabow, freelance consultant and student of Business Informatics.
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?
Two years ago, we 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 Katrin Rabow, freelance consultant and Business Informatics student.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Katrin Rabow, freelance consultant and student of Business Informatics
Katrin Rabow has worked as a freelance consultant for 15 years and supported small businesses in her daily business word. Since 2015, Katrin has been studying Business Informatics at TU Darmstadt, where she also tries to find opportunities to combine “hard” topics, such as software engineering, with more “softer” fields, such as corporate culture, time and time again.
Fortunately, there’s still a little bit of time left between university, family and a bit of earning a living, in order to partake in meetups or (un-)conferences around all things software development.
What got you interested in tech?
Back in school, I had one or two years of IT as an optional compulsory subject. We learned to program a bit of BASIC and I had fun doing so, but the great tech-euphoria didn’t happen yet. We also had a C64 at home, quite early on actually, and as far as I can remember, I only used it for editing texts or playing.
When I graduated high school, a career in industrial engineering was all the rage, which is why I applied to study IE-electrical-engineering as well as for an IE-business-informatics engineering. I even completed my pre-internship, which was a requirement for that, but I decided against it in the nick of time because it was all too technical for me, and instead went ahead and took on a travel agent apprenticeship.
It would be nice if at some point we stopped discussing diversity and simply lived it.
It wasn’t until a few years later, after I had set up my own accounting service, that I found my interest not only in the use of software, but also used my rudimentary knowledge to tinker a bit with the forms for evaluations or invoice printing. But it took another 15 years until I decided to study business informatics at TU Darmstadt and to finally learn how to program in a more or less structured way.
Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?
My role model is actually most likely — even if it sounds a bit trivial — my mother. She has nothing to do with technology at all, but she has been very active in promoting women’s rights and equality. As a child, I didn’t find that so extraordinary, but of course it had an impact on me. At home, I was never told that there was anything I could not do as a woman – I was perhaps even pushed a little bit in the direction of not wanting to become “only” a housewife and mother, which one could certainly argue about 😊.
A day in Katrin’s life
At the moment, I’m practically studying full-time and only take care of a few of the old customers on the side.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
Fortunately, I had no obstacles at all. On the contrary, I always had a lot of support – in the early years from my parents and grandparents, in recent years a lot from my husband and my children, who were also challenged by my studies to grow up a little faster than some of their peers.
I want to be recognizable as a woman, to be allowed to be female without that having any influence on how I am recognized in my profession.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
It would be nice if at some point we could stop discussing this and just live it. I would very much like us to stop talking about what gender, skin color, and origin someone has and to see ourselves as a community that benefits from the diversity of others and does not see otherness as a threat.
I don’t want to be admitted to a conference, receive an award, be invited as a speaker because I am a woman! Perhaps we currently need to create diversity through rules, but we will only have achieved our goal when there is no need for rules. I sometimes doubt that I will live to see that, but at least I have hope for my children’s generation.
What challenges do women in tech face?
In everyday life, there are always these small and typical situations, such as the question of whether I am certain that I can set up the router by myself, or whether I really need so much RAM in my computer – probably based on the thought that my husband’s worn-out laptop would be enough for a little bit of text-editing or printing out cooking recipes 😉. So, I get annoyed for a moment, even though I know that in my thinking, unfortunately, I sometimes slide into these bias stereotypes myself.
Just recently, I was a speaker at some conferences and heard in advance “You were accepted because you are a woman and all conferences want to have more female speakers.” I find something like that much worse, it hurts me and it also makes it difficult for me not to question myself whether this was the reason for accepting my session or not.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
The culture in many companies is changing very much anyway due to agile methods, which also place a stronger focus on teamwork. Suddenly, soft skills which were classically often attributed to women become important.
It is not only in the tech industry that the proportion of women is very low, but the same applies to most executive levels. In the past, women were often advised in seminars to show more male behaviour patterns in order to be able to stand their ground and assert themselves against their colleagues. I’ve never wanted to do that! I want to be recognizable as a woman, to be allowed to be female without that having any influence on how I am recognized in my profession. And I do believe that a higher proportion of women in our industry will also change the way we think. Additionally, the culture in many companies is changing very much anyway due to agile methods, which also place a stronger focus on teamwork. Suddenly, soft skills which were classically often attributed to women become important – perhaps it is precisely this new way of dealing with each other that will ultimately bring more women into the tech sector.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
That is an excellent question to which, unfortunately, I do not know the answer. I discuss this from time to time with my 17-year-old daughter, who has great grades in computer science, but finds the subject “totally boring.” She has an advanced math class with the same teacher and thinks that it is great, so it can’t really be that. Unfortunately, she can’t say herself what would have to change in order for her to develop more interest in technical subjects.
At university, I don’t have the feeling that any hurdles would be put in the way for me or my fellow students, yet less than 20 percent of new students per year are female. Sometimes, I think that maybe we have to accept this as the status quo, at least for the time being, and focus less on equalizing the proportion of women and men in the professions, but rather on ensuring that salaries do not differ so much between typical male and female professions.
What advice would you give to women who want a career in tech?
From my point of view, the same as when you enter any industry: Do what you really enjoy. And don’t be put off by the negative examples. As bad as it is in individual cases, of course, when women experience other things, I have actually always had good experiences. I really like working with men – and especially with the younger ones, I experience that they are more worried about whether they will have enough time for their families later on than about the fact that they “have to” work with women. And if a stupid remark does come up, it can certainly help to bring it up – men are sometimes not as insensitive as we women always claim 😉
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- Women in Tech: Milecia McGregor – “It is a difficult industry, but it’s nothing that you can’t handle”
- Women in Tech: Emily Jiang – “Your track record of successful delivery is enough to show the truth.”
- Women in Tech: Ina Einemann – “Women and men must be equally represented”
- Women in Tech: Stefanie Langner – “Diversity still has a long way to go”
- Women in Tech: Grace Jansen – “We desperately need people who think differently in this industry”