Women in Tech: “In terms of diversity, we are still at the very beginning”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three 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 Lisa Junger, Developer and Information Security Lead at ThoughtWorks Germany.
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?
Three 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 Lisa Junger, developer and Information Security Lead at ThoughtWorks Germany.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Lisa Junger, developer and Information Security Lead at ThoughtWorks Germany
Lisa Junger works as a developer and Information Security Lead at ThoughtWorks Germany, where she is passionately looking for different solutions in order to shape the world of tomorrow through technology.
Previously, she worked as a project manager in various countries for different non-profit and also for-profit organizations. After several years in personnel- and organizational-development, Lisa decided to give her passion for technology a new meaning and learned to program.
What got you interested in tech?
In my childhood my family was predominantly socio-scientifically oriented, thus I had very little contact with IT. Though at the same time my parents always encouraged me a lot to try out different things and to go my own way. This is one of the reasons why I had a very broad interest in various topics from an early age. For example, my two favorite subjects at school were French and Physics.
I didn’t write any real code until I joined the Rails Girls.
I chose to study Psychology because I hoped to combine my passion for positive knowledge, quantifiable results, and human and social phenomena. Later, as a statistician, I wrote scripts for data processing and this is what I perhaps would call my first contact with tech. But it wasn’t until I joined the Rail Girls that I started to write real code.
Did you receive support from your family and friends?
At first, I would have probably never gone further down this road, if I hadn’t met some of the fantastic women at Rails Girls. They are still important contacts and role models for me today. First and foremost, of course, in regards to technical issues, but also in regards to the exchange of phenomena in the IT industry and the challenges of being a software developer, woman, and career changer.
At ThoughtWorks, I’ve always worked with people who believed in me and my abilities – technically, culturally, and as a team lead. Over the past six years, I’ve been able to rely on the support of the organization from my first steps in software development to technical team lead roles, through to my current role as being in charge of the IT security for Germany.
Men, as well as women on all levels of management, have opened doors and created opportunities for me to follow this path, by lending me their own credibility or by passing on opportunities to me, which they had for themselves. For example, even in my first professional software development project, my colleagues naturally insisted that I present the project at hackathons and in lectures. They stood by my side during my first technical talks without putting me on the sidelines. Since that time I have had the opportunity to present technical topics or speak at conferences alone or together with experienced colleagues.
How did you end up in your career path?
After my studies, I spent some time as a statistician in the public healthcare sector for various research projects, supporting the methodological implementation and statistical evaluation of different research projects. Afterwards, however, I decided to become a trainer and project manager responsible for continuing education programs in the context of personnel and organizational development from global companies through to small NGOs.
I quickly came into contact with people who gave me insights into professional software development.
Through the joint work with an NGO of engineers in Burkina Faso, I rediscovered my passion for working methods, which are based on quick feedback and continuous improvement. Finally, I decided to spend a few months fully concentrating on software development, also because I realized just how much influence technical systems exerted over my life.
Through communities such as the Rails Girls or the Ruby Usergroup, which supported me massively during my first steps in software development, I quickly came into contact with people who gave me insight into professional software development. This is how I started an internship and came into contact with ThoughtWorks, where I eventually started as a Junior Software Developer.
A day in Lisas’s life
Since the end of 2019, I have been the Regional Infosec Lead at ThoughtWorks and, thus, became the central contact person for information security and risk management throughout Germany. My day-to-day work consists largely of continuously monitoring risks with all our delivery teams, proactively developing measures together, and advising on technical security and good practices. I also support escalation processes and, if necessary, manage incident response. Furthermore, as Diversity & Inclusion Leader I am responsible for leading and coordinating diversity-related activities at ThoughtWorks.
We have developed, for example, an email solution that makes encrypted communication easy for users and decentralizes data storage or a technical platform for a large e-commerce marketplace, just to name two examples.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
A large part of our economic world and the associated jobs were, at some point, made by men for men. They have their origin in the assumption that the family breadwinner puts in his work and is supported by the rest of the family. In order to expand the available labor force, women have long ago entered the radar of our economic order. Even if these times seem to be in the distant past, many basic processes and assumptions can still be found. For people with other life models, this requires great efforts of adaptation. Since white men still dominate the German IT landscape, the transformation is slower here. We see that many women are either leaving the IT industry or are retiring to “less technical” roles.
Many influential positions lack diversity, and thus the understanding and need for change.
Many influential positions lack diversity and, thus, the understanding and need for change. There is a lack of role models and cultures that allow everyone to come to work with their whole self without having to adapt to historically developed expectation patterns. Just to name a few examples: Established large companies have difficulties with the visibility of women in IT professions amidst long-established structures and processes and internal politics that often reward similarity. Dynamic young start-ups expect working hours and flexibility that are hardly manageable for people without traditional family support structures. On top of all of this, there is a good portion of everyday sexism and racism, which is rarely believed to still exist. A lot has to change here.
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Technology has a constantly growing influence on our everyday life. From our work tools, through to our private exchanges with our friends, and to political decision-making processes. Algorithms determine what answers we find on the Internet to our questions, and hardly anyone in Germany today leaves their home without a smartphone. This social reality is generated to an overwhelming extent by a comparatively small group of people. In a society where, for example, 50 percent of the population is women, they should be equally involved in creating this reality. The same applies, of course, to other social groups.
Ideally, we also manage to bring technical innovations closer to users. In Kenya, for example, a technical innovation center, Silicon Savannah, is currently being established that will certainly be better able to address the challenges in sub-Saharan Africa than the centers in Europe, North America, and Asia.
In terms of diversity, we are still at the very beginning.
Diverse teams create working environments in which different opinions and perspectives are heard and questions are addressed more openly. Through this way, more innovative solutions are often found, maybe or perhaps because of the fact that the path to them confronts us with our own values and ideas. Teams with diverse perspectives also have a better chance of representing the target groups of their software and, therefore, developing better working solutions for them.
In terms of diversity, we are still at the very beginning. The history of women’s equality to date shows us how long it takes to make these changes. We are at the very beginning of a non-binary consideration of gender, diversity of origin or multiple discrimination, and intersectionality.
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
I am still occasionally asked at tech conferences who I am accompanying. So the first assumption is that women do not show up at technical conferences or even give a lecture out of their own professional interest. The woman is implicitly told in each of these situations that she somehow does not belong there. It’s not true that fewer women are interested in technical professions, but in my experience, an extra portion of motivation and commitment is necessary just in order to stay.
The age of the basement dwelling developer is mostly over.
It happens from time to time that I solve the “problems in the team” and not the problems in the code. In my experience, women are often relied on when it comes to moderating workshops or making sure that everyone feels comfortable. These things are undoubtedly important for the productivity of the team, yet a vicious circle can spring forth from this: Women spend their time communicating, while men solve technical problems. This creates competence profiles over time that confirm the stereotype.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
Working as a software developer, as I experience it, is far more creative than is often assumed. We are allowed to create new things every day and often solve problems collaboratively. The days of the programmer in the basement are largely over. While I personally have never had as much fun with an activity as I had with programming, it is important to know that learning the craft is a path that requires a lot of energy, dedication and frustration tolerance and it is not always easy not to doubt yourself. The time to enter the IT industry is very favorable right now, because software developers are desperately needed everywhere.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “The tech sector is where tremendous innovation happens”
- Women in Tech: “What’s important is that my work is positively influencing the world”
- Women in Tech: “80% of all jobs are never posted publicly”
- Women in Tech: “Women have been able to bring a new perspective to the tech industry”
- Women in Tech: “Take responsibility and ownership for your own growth”