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Profile: Josipa Haller, Senior UX Researcher at COBE

Women in tech: “A lack of ethics in tech and digital transformation”

Dominik Mohilo

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 Josipa Haller, Senior UX Researcher at COBE.

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 tech to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Josipa Haller, Senior UX Researcher at COBE.

Our Women in Tech today: Josipa Haller, Senior UX Researcher at COBE

Josipa Haller is a Senior UX Researcher at COBE.

Josipa Haller

Josipa Haller

What got you interested in technology?

My first conscious “tech” contact (from today’s perspective) happened when I was thirteen years old, when my mother bought us (my sister and me) our first iMac with her savings. I can still remember this experience vividly: Our new “roommate” was purple, and it felt like a ticket into the wired world for us. I can still remember the exact sound when we started the dial-up software of the modem. The noise was like music to my ears, not because it was so pleasant, but because I knew that we now had the opportunity to explore the unlimited depths of the internet at home, and I found this fact so incredibly exciting and liberating.

It was during my studies, when I came into contact with Adobe’s graphics programs — such as Photoshop, InDesign and especially Illustrator – and I was overwhelmed by the ingenious nature of these tools. I used these programs every day throughout my studies, and when I was working on my master’s in Business Studies in Paris, I would often conduct a skill exchange with my fellow students: They tutored me in Finance and Supply Chain Management, while I showed them how they could make aesthetic corrections to their Facebook profile pictures with Photoshop.

After my high school graduation, I always knew that I wanted to work in the intersection between Business and Design. But back then, I couldn’t even imagine what this job would look like, let alone what it would be called. My B.A. undergraduate studies in Design and Product Management, at the UAS Salzburg, confirmed my vision, yet I did not know where it would lead me. I just had the feeling that the interaction between these two areas makes a lot of sense. After my undergraduate studies, I did a double master’s; an M.A. in Design and a M.Sc. in International Business. During my studies, I also gained some work experience as an intern and freelancer in various fields, which included furniture design, product management, jewelry design and graphic design. All of these fields have either been design or management oriented. I did not find the perfect symbiosis in the different fields.

I’ve made a habit out of letting myself be inspired by everyday heroes.

It was only when I worked as a design strategist for an American innovation consultancy in Shanghai that I realized my career had made quite a lot of sense so far. Working in Shanghai was a daily confirmation that a basic knowledge of design and business creates the perfect foundation for me to translate what I see as my raison d’être into reality – to make the world a little better for my fellow human beings through technology and a user-centric approach.

A day in Josipa’s life

Currently I am working at COBE as a Senior UX Researcher. Together with a small but very fine team of researchers, I investigate customer and user needs, so that they can be taken into account when a digital product is created. My workflow looks like this: Together with the team, I create hypotheses based on secondary research (usually this is desk-research), and the input of the customer. With the help of qualitative studies, we subsequently collect important user data, which we process. We are always keen on implementing a strong logic into this mountain of data. And on the basis of this collective data, we then develop tools; be they design criteria, personas, or customer journey maps, which we then provide to our internal concept team or/and to our customers. Based on this, valid UX concepts are created for the respective customer group. I love my work very much, because I make a lasting contribution by introducing products that are actually needed to the market. Besides, every day in an agency is different; be it because of the work’s content or intensity, but it is this dynamic of the project business that I value.

I am very eager to learn from my fellow men.

I still haven’t coded anything myself in the true meaning of the word. I only developed a fictional concept as part of my studies, and some design jams. But during my parental leave, I founded a label called “Laleila”, under which I sell baby turbans for children. The very first prototype emerged out of a personal need, which was the development of a cap for my daughter that would not neither slip in front of her eyes nor be pulled down by her all the time. The commercially available caps just did not meet my requirements. I then sewed a cap for her, in a cloak-and-dagger-operation, which met my personal requirements. When I was on the street with it, I was approached by countless mothers about the cap. The positive reactions from my de facto potential future customers were an incentive for me to start this mini project, and so now I distribute my — as I call them — “Turbaninis” through laleila.de and Instagram (@laleila). In the beginning, I sewed them at home by myself, but now I have moved the production to Croatia, where they are made by women in need.

 

 

Do you have any role models? Are there supporters?

I have made it a habit of mine to let myself be inspired by everyday heroes. Instead of chasing after an impossible to reach person I can’t touch, I see the true value of my time in surrounding myself with people from whom I can learn something, and who inspire me. I am very lucky to say that such a spectrum of people is present in parts of my work, my family, and my circle of friends.  From my profession I know that one can learn an incredible amount via the exchange of ideas, and conscious listening, and observation alone. So I am more eager to learn from my fellow human beings. Listening and watching as they master challenges, showing interest in what they have learned and analysing what I can personally apply to myself.

Any obstacles along the way?

I would be a blind idealist if I were to claim that no one has put obstacles in my way in the course of my studies and in my profession. I believe in the good in every human being, but often you are exposed to emotions like envy and jealousy of your fellow human beings. So yes, I have often experienced moments in which I was treated unfairly, be it by fellow students, colleagues, customers, or team leaders.

On my first job I also had a very extreme experience. My superior at the time made it very difficult for me to start my career by blaming me for her failures. She had it in for me. It wasn’t an easy path for me because, especially at the beginning of your career, there is always a certain amount of self-doubt and uncertainty. After one year, she had been “let go”, and apologized to me sincerely for her behavior. I knew that her attitude had nothing to do with me personally or my work, but that it was a purely personal problem on her part. In retrospect, I am happy about such an experience, which was initially perceived as negative, because it always reminds me of how I never want to be as a superior.

I believe in the good in every human being, but often one is exposed to emotions such as envy and resentment.

I am even more than just grateful for the situations in which I am met with envy and resentment, because these experiences let me recognize people who don’t want anything good for me, purely by intuition. Thus I can maintain a healthy distance to them. Because the energy that I would have wasted in clearing obstacles out of the way, I instead invested in allying myself with people whose intention is to overcome difficult paths together and to build larger bridges. That’s worked out very well so far.

Since I am originally Croatian, I know what it is like to grow up in a culture in which the expectations of men and women are clearly defined from the outset. Unfortunately, these expectations are still very attached to old and extremely conservative stereotypes. My current employer has a subsidiary in Croatia, the team there is responsible for development, and the distribution of men and women is slowly balancing. Unfortunately, our tech girls don’t have an easy time on the Croatian market. The customers are already honest, and give the team the feedback directly after the pitch that they won’t get the job despite the brilliant performance, because only women were at the pitch, and they are not trusted with the tech-heavy task. This is something that happens quite often to my Croatian colleagues, and it is of course a hard pill to swallow, but I also experience such cases here in Germany, even if it isn’t that directly addressed. It’s one of those things that women are still not trusted with. As a woman, you will encounter bewildered glances or still inappropriate comments if you do something that would be a stereotypical man’s job.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

Based on my own experiences, and through observations of my own little daughter, I conclude with certainty that the enthusiasm for tech, and later for natural sciences such as mathematics, chemistry, and physics in childhood is the same for girls and boys. And I believe, that this enthusiasm would continue, if it were encouraged over the course of time. Usually, everything stands or falls with the right support. In my opinion, there are some frightening gaps in today’s education policies.

If you look at countries like Sweden or England – where coding has long since been part of the curriculum – we in Germany are lagging behind. Now, without subjecting myself to the coding-madness, I agree that other subjects, besides coding, play an important role in preparing our schools, and, thus, our children for the digital age. The changes that should happen in German public schools with regard to these issues are, in my opinion, still open to improvement.

Fortunately, we live in a time when the conventional distribution of roles is no longer strictly adhered to.

Moreover, it is in the nature of women to put their own careers on the sidetrack for a while if they want to be a good mother, even if it is “only” for the duration of parental leave. I can tell from my own experience that I find it very challenging to manage the balancing act between family, marriage and career as a woman.

My personal happiness is currently held by three pillars: A fulfilled husband, a happy child, and a motivated working environment. All three expect dedication, hard work, but above all: time. I personally haven’t found out yet which distribution is exactly the ideal one. I’m still working on the prototype myself.

When I was in the prime of my career, I got pregnant, and when my daughter came into our lives, my priorities shifted completely. I’m not suggesting that that doesn’t apply to my husband, but one of us has to make a living after all, and since he’s the higher earner among the two of us, there’s no need to discuss which one of us plays which role at home. According to statistics of the Federal Republic of Germany, we are still confronted with an immense gender role gap. That is another discussion entirely.

Fortunately, however, we live in a time when the conventional distribution of roles is no longer strictly adhered to and I can personally say that I have an employer who is very supportive in terms of individual work-life balance. Nevertheless, I so often experience that it is the women who are always faced with the choice of child or career. Both decisions turn out to be challenging. For me, professional success goes hand in hand with personal success. So it would be more interesting, from my point of view, to analyse how many women are actually happy in the tech industry?

What does the future hold?

According to a study by Korn Ferry Hay Group, we women are way ahead of our male colleagues when it comes to emotional intelligence. This is made up of – among other things – empathy, self-perception, social competence and motivation. Above all, empathy and motivation are personal factors that are indispensable in team leadership. In my opinion, what is still clearly missing in the area of tech and digital transformation is ethics. I am convinced that women could set a sustainable direction for humanity here. Not that I rule out the possibility that our male colleagues might not be able to do the same, for it was only recently that a man, Gerd Leonhardt, came up with some revealing findings on this subject.

Our world is becoming ever more diverse and complex, and this diversity must also be reflected in teams.

Our world is becoming more and more diverse and complex, this diversity must also be reflected in teams not only made up of gender diversity, but also of a cultural mix, and the different abilities of individuals. Generation Z is growing up under completely different conditions than my generation, Generation Y did.

Politically, climatically, but also technologically, a lot is changing. This new generation knows that the only thing they can consciously influence is their own identity. Such self-discovery goes far beyond gender. It is not without reason that we are experiencing the age of gender fluidity, in which Facebook provides us with an enormous number of opportunities to express our gender identity. I believe that my generation will indeed be the last in the western world to be preoccupied with the issue of gender diversity. For Generation Z, these role expectations will simply be foreign. The binary gender system, which is divided into male and female, will no longer be relevant for future generations, as it does not correspond to the pulse of time.

Tips & Tricks

Recognize your own value and if you are interested in tech, make it easy. There are several courses that are offered online that allow you to build your tech knowledge. Tech does not mean coding per se; there are so many areas that play a role besides coding for entering the digital world: UX Design, UX Research or Digital Ethics. The latter will play an important role sooner or later. Learn about the definition of different areas, and find out in which area you can or want to see yourself in the future.

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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