“Even if it’s a male dominated table, go ahead and take a seat,” urged the panel of women who spoke at the Women in IT Forum held at INFOTEL 2015.
Talking about women in IT, both in a local context and around the globe, seven inspiring women shared their stories, advice and insights with students about to enter the IT workforce. The event 2015 was organised in partnership with the Federation of Information Technology Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS), MillenniumIT and TechAdvisor.lk.
The forum kicked off with an opening address by ICTA Chairperson Chitranganee Mubarak who spoke about the role ICT plays in empowering women and the importance of harnessing that power whether it’s through a stay-at-home mother following her dream of baking cupcakes promoted through a Facebook page, or a young woman who wants to rise to the top of the field.
Singapore infocomm Technology Federation Executive Director Ho Se Mun followed, sharing insights about Singapore’s inclusiveness of women in IT. “What do you picture when you think of IT? Guys in slacks with keyboards looking very geeky. And it’s up to us to change that and ensure the industry is made of more than just ‘brogrammers’” said Se Mun. “Education is the key. I think it’s important that we not only educate the students, but actually the parents as well,” she added, explaining the many instances that girls have told her that their parents have discouraged them from pursuing a career in the IT sector.
The Deputy Head and spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office of Sri Lanka, Rosy Senanayake, was the guest of honor. “When we talk about gender indicators, of course Sri Lanka tops the region in education and health. And we brag about our literacy rates. Even though we have these beautiful sounding statistics, I’m saddened that women in leadership do not surpass 10% in practically every sphere of life: whether it’s the public sector, whether it’s the private sector, may it be in politics. Politics is of course appalling. We have the lowest in the world. We need to change this cultural mindset and fix this problem.”
This was followed by a panel moderated by TechAdvisor.lk editor Mihiri Wikramanayake, an online tech website, which included women leaders from the local IT industry - Vidumini Ranasinghe (Project Director, MillenniumIT), Vishaka Nanayakkara (Senior Lecturer, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa), Yashinka Jayasinghe Alles (Education Programs Manager, Microsoft) and Shamini Wickremasekera (Chief Risk Officer at LOLC). Sharing their insights, career paths and how they manage to ‘do it all’, the women urged the young students to reach for everything they aspire to be. The panel covered a range of topics including how women need to stop inhibiting themselves, how to focus on their careers in spite of societal norms suggesting otherwise, and the importance of proper support from corporates to ensure that women can juggle a career and motherhood - driving home the message that women can do it, if they set their mind to something.
Event partners MillenniumIT CEO, Mack Gill said, “We’re extremely happy to have been a part of this event. Earlier this year, we held a similar event for university students, and the response was terrific. We hope to spread our empowerment message to more young women across the country and encourage them to develop a dynamic career in IT.
As a company, we create opportunities for women to balance their personal and professional lives, through flexible working hours, work-from-home options and the on-site crèche for the children of MillenniumIT employees”
Sharing their thoughts, students in the audience asked for more events which address this issue, and for assistance in breaking down some of the stereotypes associated with women working in IT.
Speaking at the event, FITIS Chairperson Chinthaka Wijewickrama said, “ICT as an industry is the 4th largest contributor towards our country’s GDP but very few women are involved in it. So it’s essential that we do something to change this.”