itsme® emphasis importance « Girls in ICT Day »
« IT sector urgently needs more women »
Today is annual ‘Girls in ICT Day’, with which the United Nations aims to draw more attention to the shortage of women in ICT. The Belgian identity app, itsme®, also hopes that increasing numbers of women will make the move to the IT sector. “Mixed teams create better products,” says itsme® CEO, Stephanie De Bruyne. “So we are actively looking for female staff.”
Why do so few women work in IT? And how can we attract more women into the sector? These are the two recurring questions that are asked on the fourth Thursday in April each year on the United Nations’ international ‘Girls in ICT Day’. Belgian Mobile ID, the company behind the successful itsme® identity app, feels the effects of just how difficult it is to recruit women on a daily basis. “At the moment, 1 in 4 employees at Belgian Mobile ID is a woman,” says Stephanie De Bruyne, CEO of itsme®. “This means we are doing better than the average for the sector, which remains stuck on 15% to 20% jobs for women. Our Board of Directors has also seen a positive development with the arrival of 2 female directors. Yet, there’s still a long way to go and our company is actively looking for more women to join us.”
For example, the quality of IT often improves when women are at the controls, as well as men. “Research shows that mixed teams design and develop better products,” says Ms De Bruyne. “Greater diversity generates different approaches, for example in terms of design or ease of use. It also avoids any bias in a specific direction, as can be seen from data algorithms in the world of AI. Technology has become ingrained into the lives of everyone, men and women alike. But if we want our apps to meet everyone’s societal needs, more women are going to be needed to develop tech products.”
Everything begins with education. So every year, on ‘Girls in ICT Day’, the UN promotes the need, from as soon as when they’re sitting in the classroom, for girls and young women to embrace the idea of a career in technology. But to do so, they need secure global access to the Internet and digital tools. Which is why this year, in 2022, the theme of ‘Girls in ICT Day’ is ‘Access and Safety’.
The intake of young girls into IT is still too low in the Belgian education system, says Stephanie De Bruyne from itsme®. “Right now, too few girls are opting for STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). All too often there is a preconception in the classroom that IT is a man’s world, focused on programming and coding. But that picture is not right. On the one hand, there are plenty of women who are passionate about programming. On the other, IT offers much more variety than just that. It’s also about identifying social needs, outlining the user experience, testing the solution developed, bringing new technologies to market and communicating with end users, etc.”
The aim at itsme® is to recruit more women. “My hope is that we can achieve a better balance between male and female staff at itsme® over the next three years,” emphasises CEO Stephanie De Bruyne. “It’s quite a challenge, because at the moment, most of the applications we receive are from men. In our recruitment process, we will ensure that this inward flow is more balanced and that we pay attention to the so-called ‘unconscious bias’. But it goes without saying, of course, that the objective qualities of the applicants in question remain the decisive factor.”
itsme® is already heavily involved in digital inclusiveness: the identity app targets all citizens and is designed to involve everyone in society. “So it only seems logical to me that we extend this inclusive role to our recruitment,” concludes De Bruyne.
itsme® a female fintech?
Four female colleagues have their say
At itsme®, women firmly stand their ground. To mark international ‘Girls in ICT Day’, four of our female staff talk about their roles at itsme® and in the broader world of IT.
“The so-called ‘unconscious bias’ is still very much present”
Name: Stephanie De Bruyne
Job title: CEO
How did you get into IT?
“As a commercial engineer, I began my career in the financial sector. But while I was at BNP Paribas Fortis, I became involved by coincidence in the launch of the first mobile banking app. And I was immediately bitten by the IT bug. I found the challenge of developing the ideal user experience without compromising security particularly exciting. So going to work at itsme® was a logical step for me. There are few applications such as itsme® that succeed in bringing complex advanced technology to people in such a straightforward way. Everyone needs to be able to use our identity app easily and securely.”
Can you, as a female CEO, be a role model for other women in the IT sector?
“I have always been a bit apprehensive about the title of role model. I believe that many of the themes linked to the gender debate, such as achieving a better work-life balance, apply just as much to men. On the other hand, I now understand so much better than before that the so-called ‘unconscious bias’ is still present far too much. I also realise that it is our shared responsibility, as men and women, to create awareness about it.”
“Gender bias begins in the classroom: girls who want to go into tech-related jobs frequently have to deal more with surprised questions about the direction they want to go in, than boys who choose the same path. During the recruitment process, typical male qualities are more often (and sometimes incorrectly) associated with leadership and so they are often unconsciously selected based on ‘equality’ – which is something of a concern in a predominantly male sector. Also, expressions of values such as ‘ambition’ and ‘assertiveness’ are often interpreted differently, depending on gender. But at the same time, I must also acknowledge that this is sometimes a delicate balance. When women are appointed to top jobs, gender is often mentioned in the list of qualities of the candidate in question, whereas objectively speaking, it is neither an indicator of leadership nor experience. These examples can easily be dismissed as clichés, but if we are honest, this type of situation still occurs regularly, whether unconsciously or with good intentions. So we must all strive, each in our specific role, to be more aware of this, so that each person can develop his or her full potential in an inclusive environment.”
“Want to work IT? Just do it!”
Name: Sylvie Vandevelde
Job title: Chief Marketing Officer
How did you get into IT?
“I worked for many years in a wide range of different sectors, both here and abroad. In every job, my goal was to translate the needs of the consumer into the right product as well as I could. And IT was involved at every stage! That’s how my passion grew for the sector, despite the fact I never had a technical education as such. I was there at the birth of itsme® and in my present role I continue to track the evolution of society (digital or not) as well as the habits of the consumer-citizen. There is an enormous need to be able to identify yourself digitally, wherever you go, in a way that is both accessible and secure.”
itsme® has become an important tool in the lives of 6.4 million Belgians.
“Absolutely. I also look at IT mainly from a sociological point of view. It is a sector that needs to work on behalf of our fast-changing society. And that’s where marketing and communication play a crucial role. How can I ensure that as many people as possible understand how our ID app works and that they trust the itsme® brand? At the same time, I’m also busy with our business partners: which IT needs do companies have and which challenges are they facing? Here again, itsme® has a social role to fulfil.”
Do you think that female end users deserve more attention?
“Actually, they do. When we talk about digital inclusion, we mainly mean older people, but it’s broader than that. All of the groups in our society deserve equal attention, which means women do, too. That’s why the itsme® app was built very deliberately to be gender neutral. We do not place the emphasis on either male or female end users. It’s an identity app for everyone, without distinction.”
“Expertise, humbleness, and compassion regardless gender/identity is the way to diversity”
Name: Yauheniya Askolkava
Job title: System engineer
How did you get into IT?
“I made a total career switch after previously working in the care sector in Italy. And it turns out that IT appears to be my true calling. When I relocated to Brussels, I wanted to contribute to digitalisation in Belgium. I spent a year learning at BeCode, which is a Brussels campus that offers IT training free of charge to people looking for work. Very quickly large companies offered a position: for which I was super grateful as it means someone believes in my skills. I opted for itsme®, because it’s an app that’s bringing about so much change in society.”
At itsme®, you work in Technical Operations, the hard-core IT department.
“That’s right, technical operations are my daily job. I am seemingly the only colleague in TechOps who identifies and expresses herself as a woman. I have not yet worked in TechOps with ladies, so I am not sure how it will be (Laughs). I’m forever asking, boys when are we going to take on a woman? But female systems engineers seem to be rare.
How difficult is it to work in a male environment?
“It is challenging, but I have not much to compare. As all humans, we have a range of different interests and look at things differently. More technically engaged colleagues are sometimes much more assertive and could sound over-confident. In my case, I would mention topics with less confidence, yet in a more delicate manner?”
Do you have any tips for women wanting to become a systems engineer?
“Don’t let yourself be put off by technical skills. Take the time to learn them and once you have, your self-confidence will follow automatically. And be sure to gather the right people around you, people who understand, motivate and inspire you. And also take a look at female IT associations, such as Women.Dot.Code or Women in Tech Brussels. These organisations will help you to lower the threshold into IT
“IT is so much more than just programming”
Name: Philippine Bronchain
Job Title: Product manager
How did you get into IT?
“I always had a natural interest in technology and especially in its solutions-focused aspect. Early in my career I was given the choice of working at itsme® and I realised that the sector really suited me.”
What’s your job at itsme®?
“My job is managing new projects about the identity app, from A to Z, and providing all of the teams with the right information. So I’m in contact with just about everyone at itsme®, from app designers and programmers, right through to the sales team. I don’t have to do any coding myself, but I do need to know about the technology behind the app.”
Why should more women opt for IT?
“You couldn’t find a broader sector if you tried! Everyone uses technology and it has an impact on us all. That’s what appealed to me so much. At itsme®, I’m involved with legislation, marketing, product development and so on. I just can’t get enough of it! (Laughs) Our company has many different personalities, from marketeers to engineers. I like that very much.”
But women are in the minority.
“Yes, again I’m the only woman in my team. But I’m certain that, while plenty of women have the right IT skills, they tend to get frightened off by sector stereotypes. Yet I can’t emphasise it enough: IT is an open world and it welcomes everyone. There are lots of job opportunities, too. IT is much more than just programming: it’s also about using your creativity, coming up with solutions-focused thinking and improving human interactions. You name it, we do it.”
Want to join our team? We are looking for new talents.