ICT Supergirls: Working in tech, and living the life you want

What is it like for women to work in ICT? What can we do to promote inclusion and diversity in ICT? How company culture impacts opportunities and work-life balance? How to get more girls into technology jobs?

Ours Dolores Koverlica and Mirta Štefanac spoke on these topics to an audience of several hundreds at a recent panel in Pula’s Park Plaza Histria.

Hosted at the annual Let’sGrow tech conference, the session titled ICT Supergirls saw Monika Ivanović of Infobip moderating. Ana Tolić (CMG), Iva Horvat (Mijena), Zorana Matić (Cenosco) and Nikolina Ljubičić (Lloyds digital) were on the panel, too, sharing examples of flexible work arrangements, and how that helped them build work-life balance. Role models and company cultures were on the agenda as well.

Dolores Koverlica, Mirta štefanac

“Go for it!” Support of mentors is vital

A dynamic personality, Mirta earned her BA from the Zagreb University of Applied Sceinces, and her MA at the Faculty of Organisation and Informatics in Varazdin. She dreamed of traveling and experiencing life abroad.

- I interned at a start-up in Barcelona for seven or eight months. Returning to Rijeka, it was by chance that I met Goran Mrvos, the founder of Infosit. We agreed I would come over to Porec to get to know them better. That’s how everything started. At first, I worked remotely from my hometown of Rijeka. After a while, I wanted to travel in South America, and keep working for Infosit. I spoke about it with Dolores. From the moment she said: Go for it!, I started planning things out. I needed a good backpack, to fit in my laptop and a year's worth of clothes. It was a challenge, but I succeeded, Mirta said.

She stayed in South America for a year. When the coronavirus hit, she returned home. Later she went back to Argentina, and now she is in Rijeka again.

All that time she worked for Infosit.

There are many opportunities in the IT industry for flexible work hours and remote work. That can bring advantages, but there are challenges, too.

- A lot will depend on your role on the team. While in South America, I was a front-end developer. There was a time difference of 4 to 5 hours, so I could do my daily team meeting in the morning. After that I would do my part of the work as it suited me. Now I am in the team lead role. It means more meetings, and more interaction in general. At this point it would be more challenging to work from a time zone on the other side of the world, Mirta said.

Living the way you want, 100 percent

Dolores has near to 20 years of experience in ICT, in roles that spanned coding, HR, organisational development and management. Work-life balance meant very different things for her at different points in life.

- When I first started working, I enjoyed doing the work, learning and discovering new things. After 12 hours of coding, I wasn't even tired. I would go out with my friends, with my boyfriend, and there was still time for family, for rest and everything I needed. Then I became the mother of two children and we started building a house. My parents fell ill and needed my help. In those years, work-life balance had a very different meaning. It was important for me to have time to be a mother. It was a big life change, and it was no longer ok to work for 12 hours a day. Now that our daughters are becoming teenagers with their own priorities, I enjoy working on challenging projects, but it's also important for me to rest. I value time for myself, and time for self-improvement. I wouldn't do it in any different way than I already do it, Dolores said.

And that, in her words, is key to understanding work-life balance. It is when you can live 100 percent the way you want, depending on the stage of life you are in.

Panel discussion titled "ICT Supergirls" hosted at the annual Let’sGrow tech conference

Changing things, one step at a time

Research suggests that more women get into universities, and more women earn degrees, including PhDs. There are more women in entry-level managerial positions in ICT. McKinsey found that over the course of 5 years women will have better results as managers. Yet, moving up the organisation ladder, inequality starts showing, and grows with each step up.

Mirta believes that “what you bring to the table” is key.

- I think that, once you bring value to the table, there is no room for inequality.

The role of women in ICT is still mostly talked about among women. How to involve more men in the conversations and initiatives?

Mirta believes that the conversation should start much earlier.

- I think that the problem starts much earlier than at this moment, when we are talking about it. The entire society needs to grow in awareness - men and women, old and young. We all make up that society together and we need to educate ourselves, she said.

As Chief Solutions Architect and senior partner at Infosit, Dolores shared the organizational perspective.

- Looking at what we can do from an organizational point of view, I think that everything starts from the top, from what company's leadership and founders believe is right, what they live and value. After that, there is hiring. It’s an important tool. Hiring will impact your situation in the organisation tremendously. And finally, there is education. If you really want to achieve something, if you see that something needs to change, you can arrange education for everyone at the company. It is one way of helping people grow in self-awareness, in communication, in teamwork. You do it one step at a time, and you will not see results quickly. But year over year, you will see improvement in your organization. And that's something we carry with us, to our homes, and slowly we build a different society, Dolores said.

Culture is about how we do things

Speaking of the culture of an organization, be it in ICT or elsewhere, we usually refer to written, and much more often unwritten rules that influence how that organization works and achieves results, Dolores said.

- Culture is about why the organization exists, its mission and vision; it is also about how we contribute to the market and how we work. It is reflected in what we value, how we communicate, how we behave when a problem occurs. In my opinion, a culture at an ICT firm should have the following traits: flexibility, lifelong learning, tolerance, inclusiveness, innovation and willingness to change.

Inclusion, among other things, implies equal participation of men and women in what the company is building.

- If we don’t have the perspective that each side brings (and they can be very different), then we lack a holistic view, which is important when we build new things. If we focus on differences only, we will find many. Instead of that, we should understand how these differences enrich us. The organisation should ensure that everyone who can contribute with their knowledge and skills has that opportunity. We need to make sure that we all know how to listen together. It needs to be something that the company lives and breathes, she said.

Role models help us grow in life and work

Mirta spoke about her mom as a major role model in life; Dolores, on the other hand, has been an influence in her professional path.

Dolores highlighted men as equally important in shaping her journey.

- I share a way of thinking with my dad, and in some ways his approach to things suited me. Then there was Goran (Mrvoš), my mentor when I first started working at Infosit, and later on, as I took on other roles. If something didn't suit me, I looked further. I think we need to be open and look for a person who will be our role model in that one thing. For me, there is not just one role model to which you can attribute everything, she concluded.

Monika Ivanović (Infobip), Iva Horvat (Mijena), Nikolina Ljubičić (Lloyds digital), Zorana Matić (Cenosco), Dolores Koverlica (Infosit), Mirta štefanac (infosit), and Ana Tolić (CMG)

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