Fireside chat with Harvard professor and Credit Suisse board member on “gender equality by design”


From left to right: Yannick Blättler (NEO), Nils Bircher (NEO), Petra Ehmann (we shape tech), Professor Iris Bohnet (Harvard, Credit Suisse), Janine Fuchs (we shape tech), Kujtesa Kryeziu (NEO), Professor Lino Guzzella (ETH Zurich), Valentina Vergallo (NEO), Sarah Bieri (NEO), Loris Niederberger (NEO)

Two weeks ago, the NEO network and we shape tech hosted their first event together! They filled over 430 seats in the largest auditorium at ETH Zurich, the Audimax, while over 100 people on the video stream watched the entire fireside chat live. Thank you, NEO network, for being such a strong collaboration partner – particular thanks goes to Nils, Yannick, Loris and Dani. And thank you, Credit Suisse, for being our exclusive sponsor to this event!

Harvard Professor and Credit Suisse Board member, Iris Bohnet, did not only attract this large crowd but kept it also highly energized, engaged, entertained and inspired. What works to establish gender equality? And what doesn’t work? Professor Bohnet drew upon research performed globally over the course of various decades, filled with the one or the other anecdote.

Event fotos and full video recording

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The president of ETH Zurich, Prof. Guzzella, opened the event and set the stage for an event with this prominent guest speaker. His presence showed that gender equality is not only a topic that is of importance to ETH Zurich, but to society in general.


After the introduction of star professor, Iris Bohnet from Harvard, the host, Petra from we shape tech, steered the conversation quite determined and with a dry sense of humor to the first question on gender equality.  Based on research by Lean In and McKinsey, over 50% of men and 30% of women are OK that currently 90% of top management globally is filled with men. If so many people are satisfied with the status quo, why shall we change it and increase diversity – asked she. The tone was set to a light hearted yet serious conversation to an otherwise quite academic topic. Diversity is needed for mainly two reasons, explained Professor Bohnet, being quick-witted. First, gender equality is a basic human right and second, diversity offers also economic benefits such as higher revenues if teams are equally balanced with males and females.


Iris Bohnet enjoyed visibly to share research findings such as underlying the “power of unconscious bias in the moment”. One of them was the competence-likeability paradox. In a research study based on a real persona, this persona’s resume got handed to one set of study participants under her real name, “Heidi Roizen”, and to another set of participants under a male name, “Howard Roizen”. Interestingly, despite the participants ranked Heidi’s and Howard’s competence equally, they liked Howard much better. This implies that women can’t have it both: either they are successful yet not liked, or they are not successful but liked.

When it comes to how to establish gender equality, one of the biggest obstacles is our own subconscious judgement. We oftentimes automatically stereotype people without being aware of it. For instance, mothers face “motherhood penalties” whereas fathers face “fatherhood premiums” because a working mother goes against the stereotype of a caring mother. A father will be perceived as a more stable employee compared to a mother and if we continue those thoughts: who would an employer prefer to hire, a stable employee or one that doesn’t take care of her kids? Consequently, if we want to establish gender equality, we need to filter out stereotypes in our decisions. But how can we do that?


One easy and common attempt to filter out stereotypes are diversity trainings such as “bias busting” or “unconscious bias”. But they don’t work because our “minds are pretty stubborn beasts” and eventually it is just “money down the drain”, reminded us Professor Bohnet. US companies alone invest every year USD 8 billion into diversity trainings, despite research studies show no correlation between a diverse workforce and diversity trainings over the course of three decades (source). Diversity trainings seem to be an inefficient instrument to increase diversity. 


If diversity trainings don’t work, what if women try to lean in their jobs, negotiate their salaries, ask for a promotions, speak up, etc.? Professor Bohnet warns that this approach might be risky for women because their behavior would be counter-stereotypical. If a woman asks for a pay raise, she will be perceived as aggressive because her behavior deviates from the stereotype of a caring and nurturing mother. But Iris Bohnet explained that if women negotiate on behalf of another women, they doen’t get penalized for asking for something! She gave an example of a company that employs a male and a female ‘negotiator’ who employees can send off to negotiate their salaries, pension funds, etc. Both the female and the male negotiator achieved the same results. What does that mean for us? Iris Bohnet encouraged us women to team up more and to stand up for each other.


Let’s get back to our original question of how we could achieve gender equality. While diversity trainings don’t work, doing it yourself doesn’t work either. How else could we achieve equality? There are quite a few levers and her book “what works – gender equality by design” shows optimism towards its feasibility. She recommends that we should “not de-bias our minds, but fix the system”. Our brains are stubborn and we cannot eliminate stereotypes easily and quickly, instead we should change the underlying rules of the system so that rules neutralize stereotypes and allow men and women to develop freely. 


One way of changing the underlying system is through “blind auditions”. Leading American orchestras had less than 5% women in the 70ies. At that time, even prominent conductors such as Barenboim were convinced that they hired only the best musical talents. After introducing a curtain to the auditions, the percentage of female orchestra members increased to over 40% nowadays and “blind auditions” increased the chances of women to be hired by 50%. If we were to apply “blind auditions” to other industries outside the music business, would it work? Yes, says Iris Bohnet, pointing towards software companies such as textio or gapjumpers who offer products that help eliminate stereotypes in the hiring process.


And other than changing the system, can’t we get to the roots of stereotypes and erode them over time? Yes, we can do that in fact is her answer, but it takes time. Consider that it took 40 years to put a man on the moon and 83 years to achieve gender equality globally at the current velocity of change. There are a few things that we could speed up for instance. The best example to show that human minds indeed change is one of the Indian 1993 legislation which Iris Bohnet explained. India introduced an amendment to the legislation to demanding that a third of all mayor positions were reserved for women. The first generation of women had a rough time, hated their jobs and left them eventually. The second generation however profited from their predecessor’s work and enjoyed their jobs better. “Mindsets were starting to change and people started to believe that political leadership could be about women” she explained. More and more parents got convinced that their daughters should become politicians. After the second generation of female leaders in politics – which took 2 terms of 4 years each – society got used to female leadership and stopped attributing leadership solely with men. 


Increasing diversity is important to our society, economy and to our individual development. To achieve it, let’s not waste our resources with methods that are uncorrelated towards achieving this goal, but let’s focus on methods that work. For instance, let’s provide more visibility to role models that are in counter-stereotypical positions and let’s change the underlying rules of our system, but not the people. To all CEOs and HR bosses: you have some work ahead of you 😉 To the rest of us: If you see another woman doing a great job, give her a shout out because if she shouts out herself, she will get penalized. Let’s become each other’s change makers. Let’s shape tech!


Thank you very much to Nils, Yannick, Loris, Dani from the NEO network.

Thank you to our fantastic sponsor, Credit Suisse, for making this great event possible.

Review «Learn to code with Master21 & WE SHAPE TECH Zurich during EU Code Week», 18.10.17


By Sonja Bichsel

Concrete, glass, container and colourful light greet me, as I arrive at the newly opened Kraftwerk for the Coding Evening with We Shape Tech. The turnout is big. 75 participants, a lively mix of women in the majority and equally interested men, all gathered after what must have been a full day of work for most of them. The room is filled with a keen energy of curiosity, concentration and learning while the atmosphere is engaged, concentrated and focused at the same time. I think back to my first coding seminar at university years ago and wonder if my basic knowledge will hold up or if it has been outrun by the pace of technology.

Infrastructure definitely has made a leap. This evening, tables with power cords are set up, everyone has showed up with their laptop and all it takes to be connected is a wireless connection. Participants are able to download their very first html editor with the help of a weblink and they are set to take their first steps. I giggle thinking back to my first coding seminar in university. I had to pick up an access code at the library first, then had to show up weekly in a sticky and small, but at the time modern room at university and sit down behind a huge desktop with clunky screen and a huge keyboard. Coding at home was a challenge, my computer wasn’t well enough equipped and I ended up spending extra curricular time at the lab and with my older brother who was a computer science major. The glass, concrete, steel architecture surrounding me and the small and elegant laptops make me realise that I have arrived in the future.

_GEB7240After a warm welcome by the hosts, Janie Fuchs from We Shape Tech and Melanie Kovacs from Master21, the instructor Chanel Greco, beaming with joy and clarity, is taking the floor to lead 75 people through their first steps in coding. Her instructions are straight forward, well thought through and everyone in the room can feel that her passion and interest for coding are real. From the simple to the complex, she explains what an html file is, how it is structured, what it contains, what a header and a body are and into what depths of the internet we have to dive to find more tricky pieces of code. Checking back in with the crowd and asking questions, produces first shy answers by the participants that grow more confident during the evening. The mood at my table is collaborative. A group of 5 women, among them a mother and her daughter in her early twenties are following first instructions, asking each other questions and getting help from the 14 coaches who buzz around the room to help participants through their first steps: from downloading the html editor to writing and adjusting their first pieces of code.

_GEB7264After the first 10 minutes I feel myself relax. My concerns about my perhaps outdated coding knowledge are vanishing. Like with any other language, the vocabulary might change, words may be used in a different context, there are certainly new trends and styles, but the grammar is still the same. I might not know my coding alphabet by heart, but I can still navigate a piece of code and make sense out of the pieces that were not familiar yet. What I do find surprising however, is that in the end basic coding still isn’t considered common knowledge yet. Coding according to the organisers is just as important a language now than English. Considering how much time we all spend in front of the screen, being surrounded by technology all day, the statement makes sense. That the education system still hasn’t integrated basic coding into curriculums and that people still need to get out of their way to learn a 21st Century skill and spend money out of their own pocket to update their knowledge seems surprising. I am starting to sense what immense opportunity there might lie in closing the digital divide by providing people of all ages with the basic knowledge to understand how coding works. I don’t think everyone needs to be able to code their own programs, but having the basics to join conversations and have a sense of what might be possible would be a good foundation for people to collaborate across sectors and cultures.

_GEB7215At the end of the evening, every participant has programmed their very own landing page. Participants had the chance to apply their own styles which provides each page with an individual touch. What is even more important, that each participant leaves with a landing page that doesn’t just look pretty, but now could be used to test demand for a product or service. Coding, as so many things in life, becomes more interesting with an immediate and obvious application at hand.

Check out some more photos of the event here!

Stoilka Krasteva is a psychologist. In her day job she is working on user experience research and testing. She participated because she likes doing one different or new thing every day. Learning to code for her was really helpful, especially in understanding what is  going on «behind the scenes» of a program.

Nicolas Hebting collaborates with two programmers on his team at and wants to be able to understand what the two are talking about. His organisation is building an online community and the design of the platform is a vital part of their work. He really enjoyed the evening, had fun trying to code and and is leaving with confidence of having reached his goal.

Laura Zumstein works for the Kaufmännischer Verband Zürich. She would like to enable members of the Arbeitnehmerverband to learn basic coding as a 21st century skill and support them to develop an interest and appetite for more. Her main target group for future training are apprentices. Her intention for joining the evening was to check out Melanie’s workshop. She walks away with an experience that she thought that was great.

Anita thought coding to her was a real technical knowledge gap. She is working with programmers at work every day and wanted to have a basic understanding, so she can join and understand conversations about programming. Out of her private interest, she would like to be able to code her own website.

Monika Blaser kommt zu WST Bern


Sie wollte immer Floristin werden. Doch kurz vor dem Unterzeichnen des Lehrvertrages wurde bei ihr eine Pollenallergie festgestellt – zum Glück, wie man heute sagen kann, sonst wäre sie nie in der spannenden IT-Welt gelandet. Nach der KV-Lehre gelang der Direkteinstieg in den EDV-Support in der Nahrungs- und Genussmittelindustrie. Über diverse Weiterbildungen führte ihr Weg von der Applikations- und Systembetreuerin beim Kanton zu den Datenbanken im Energiesektor. Im Team wie auch an Ausbildungen war sie meistens die einzige Frau, was sie nie störte. Im Gegenteil – die Männer schätzten ihre Ansichten und als Teamleiterin wurde sie respektiert. Über Diversität und Frauen in der Technik hat sie sich nie gross Gedanken gemacht. Bis zum Tag, als nach einer Reorganisation einer ihrer Mitarbeiter kündigte, mit der Begründung, dass er keine Frau als Chefin akzeptieren könne. Da lernte sie WeShapeTech kennen. Besonders das Netzwerk sowie die kleinen konkreten Beispiele, die man für Alltagssituationen lernt, schätzt sie sehr. Als Wirtschaftsinformatikerin FH und mit 15 Jahren Informatik Erfahrung, arbeitet sie aktuell bei einem Finanzdienstleister im Innovationsteam. Um erfolgreich neue, innovative Geschäftsideen zu generieren, sind verschiedene Meinungen, Charaktere und Erfahrungen enorm wertvoll. Deshalb haben alle vom Team einen unterschiedlichen Background. In ihrer Freizeit ist sie Tauchlehrerin und reist leidenschaftlich gern.

Monika Blaser hat We Shape Tech bei der Organisation vom Event «Lebenswege» unterstützt und wird sich zukünftig als Vorstandsmitglied von We Shape Tech Bern weiter für das Netzwerk engagieren! Wir freuen uns sehr darüber und heissen Monika herzlich willkommen in unserem Vorstand!

Alice Baumann


Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned.

Let’s start from the beginning: tell us about where you’re from!

I was born in Schaffhausen. My father is Swiss, my mother Danish. This multicultural mixture made me very open-minded, creative and cosmopolitan.

What valuable advice did you get from your parents?

Never give up – always follow your dream! As photographers, journalists and authors, they were perfect role models: They met a lot of interesting people, travelled a lot, wrote thousands of articles and published many books. And even though they are in their 80ties by now they still follow their passion: Their new book about the lovely aspects of Schaffhausen will be celebrated in November. Creativity keeps them young. I share their fire, their courage and their hope to make the world a better place.

How did you become interested in tech?

For many years I worked as a journalist, coach and community manager. After my two studies in Communication and Social Media Management I enjoyed a study travel to the Silicon Valley. To discover new trends like Augmented Reality blew my head off: I returned as a tech fan and became a director of strategic marketing and innovation at Losinger Marazzi. We develop Smart Cities and offer our clients the entire life cycle of buildings.

What aspects of your work are you proudest of?

Thanks to several studies and my long and broad experience in the working field, I happen to inspire and motivate many people in our company, from top management to employees. We define Human Smart Cities and many other subjects.

What drives you at work?

As an Innovation Manager, I am at least two years ahead with my research. That makes me lead the was for our constructing experts. My vision of buildings as well as of new strategies and methods makes me an inspiring leader and coach for the top management as well as for our teams at the front.

What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech?

I am a woman. I am a Swiss-German speaking Swiss-Danish woman with a long history of studies and diverse professional experiences, including freelance jobs, and I was not socialised in real estate. The majority of the management board are male (78 out of 80), french speaking engineers or lawyers, some of them with no other professional background than the multinational group Bouygues, which Losinger Marazzi is part of. I am the provocative and sometimes hurting stone in their shoes, as they say.

What advice would you give other women in tech?

Never give up. Follow your dream. The stone in your own show can change into a crystal. But: Never give yourself up. If your managing job hurts too much change the horse and ride away towards the rising sun. There is always another dream to be followed. Don’t suffer – enjoy life!

Lebenswege – ein Abend mit Barbara Marti & Susanne Ruoff



Studium oder Lehre? Und wenn ja, welches oder welche? Im Heimatort bleiben oder in die Ferne ziehen? Kinder – jetzt, später oder nie? Weltreise oder Beförderung? Heiraten? Scheiden lassen? Teilzeit oder Kündigung?

Jeder von uns hat tausende von kleinen und grossen Entscheidungen getroffen, die uns dahin geführt haben, wo wir heute stehen und unseren persönlichen Lebensweg definieren. Sie beruhen auf Überlegungen und Überzeugungen; Zufällen und Chancen; manchmal auch externen Einflüssen und Zwängen. Oft wird uns vermittelt, dass diese möglichst linear, stetig nach oben weisend sein sollen – so soll der CV aussehen. Doch die Realität ist eine andere: Unterbrüche, Umwege, Richtungswechsel sind ein wesentlicher Bestandteil der meisten Lebensläufe, wie unsere Gäste der bisherigen We Shape Tech Bern Anlässe unter Beweis stellen:

  • Hanna Muralt-Müller starte als Primarlehrerin und fand dann den Weg zur Vize-Bundeskanzlerin
  • Anaïs Sägesser stieg immer wieder bewusst aus dem vorgeplanten Karriereweg aus, um sich mehr für einen nachhaltigen Lebensstil auf allen Ebenen einzusetzen
  • Die super Frauen der Powercoders (z.B. Mannar Hielal) wurden durch Flucht aus ihrem Land zu einem neuen Leben gezwungen und zeigen eindrücklich, wie es eben auch ganz anders gehen kann.
  • Wir drei vom WST Vorstand Bern selbst: Sombra kehrte Spanien den Rücken und kam in die Schweiz; Brigitte ist seit einem Jahr selbstständig unterwegs; und wie ich von der Physik über die IT zur Impact Hub Gründung fand ist auch eher verschlängelt.

Bei unserem letzten Event «Lebenswege» am 6. September widmeten wir uns nun ganz diesem Thema und durften von zwei erfolgreichen Tech-Frauen mehr über ihren Weg erfahren:

Barbara Marti genoss eine «Informatik Schnellbleiche»

Barbara Marti studierte ursprünglich Physik – dabei gab es eine Informatik «Schnellbleiche». Als Quereinsteigerin wurde sie dann bei der PostFinance in 6 Wochen zur Programmiererin ausgebildet. Ihrem Arbeitgeber blieb sie treu: Seit 28 Jahren ist sie in der PostFinance IT unterwegs, inzwischen als Leitern IT Application Management.

Susanne Ruoff beeindruckt von Anfang an mit ihrer sympathischen und dennoch sehr klaren Art: Keine fünf Minuten nach ihrem Eintreffen sind wir per Du. Und auch das knackende Headset beim Interview meistert sie mit Nonchalance: wirft den Kopf-Bügel über die Schulter und nimmt stattdessen das schwere Mikro in die Hand.

Damentoiletten? Brauchte es bisher nicht

Ihre eigene IT Karriere begann damit, dass sie als Primarlehrerin Stundenpläne in BASIC programmierte. Frauen in der IT: Das ist zwar immer noch eine Seltenheit, früher nahm das jedoch ganz andere Formen an. So erzählt Susanne Ruoff wie sie in ihrer Anfangszeit bei IBM in einem Rechenzentrum in Deutschland arbeitete und endlos auf der Suche nach einer Toilette war. Bis sie den Hauswart fragte, wo denn die Damentoilette sei. Dieser schaute sie etwas verdutzt an und musste eingestehen, dass es eine solche hier nicht gibt. Doch man fand einen «Workaround»: Ein kleines Schild, auf der einen Seite «Mann» auf der anderen «Frau», dass Susanne Ruoff bei Bedarf anbringen konnte.

Dass Kinder und Karriere kein Ausschlussprinzip sind, beweist nicht nur Susanne Ruoff sondern zeigt sich bei vielen der anwesenden Frauen: ungefähr die Hälfte streckt auf, bei der Frage wer Mutter ist. Damit Arbeit und Familie vereinbar sind, muss man den richtigen Partner finden: Susanne Ruoffs Mann ist Winzer und konnte so mehr Zeit zu Hause mit der Familie verbringen. Deshalb ist allgemein wichtig, Teilzeitarbeit bei Männern zu fördern. Dadurch wird automatisch auch die Vereinbarkeit von Beruf und Familie bei Frauen gefördert.

CEO Post – Kein 9-to-5 Job

Auf die Frage, wie viel sie denn arbeite, antwortet Susanne Ruoff, dass ihre Tage um 5:00 Uhr starten und um Mitternacht enden. Das war denn auch einer der Hauptgründe, weshalb viele beim anschliessenden «Speed Dating» meinten, sie würden lieber nicht mit ihr tauschen: Es wäre ihnen einfach zu viel, vor allem weil nicht jede(r) die beneidenswerte Fähigkeit besitzt, einfach auch mal abzuschalten.

Wir nehmen auch mit, dass Netzwerken wichtig ist und die relevanten Gespräche erst «später» oder «noch später» stattfinden. Das wurde auch in die Tat umgesetzt und beim anschliessenden Apéro wurden fleissig Verbindungen geknüpft, die Softeis Maschine repariert und neue Event-Ideen erdacht…bis wir aus Security bedingten Gründen gehen mussten: Ein Event im Rechenzentrum der PostFinance hat auch seine Tücken.