Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned. Since Miriam left the We Shape Tech Berne Board in the end of 2017 we held this interview with her.
Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about where you’re from!
I grew up in Munich, but moved to Zurich when I was 18 to study physics at ETH – that’s 14 years ago. After finishing my studies and doing a bit of travelling, I worked in IT for 5 years, as a consultant and project manager. In spring 2013 I moved to Bern, where I live now and co-founded the Impact Hub Bern in 2016.
What valuable advice did you get from your parents?
«Damit gewinnt man kein Blumentopf» was one of my mother’s favorites. That stuck with me: it’s about what you accomplish, not about being «nice» or «pretty». My mother is a hard working business women to this day, so I never felt like there were things that women just can’t or shouldn’t do.
The second thing I take from my upbringing is, that those who have, should give – be it money time or abilities.
How did you become interested in tech?
As a child I loved going to the all the science and technology museums in Munich with my father. He took great pride in explaining everything to me and I enjoyed all the interactive displays, pushing all the buttons… I guess that is what still interests me most: understanding how things work.
What aspects of your work are you proudest of?
Founding and building up the Impact Hub Bern is the best work I’ve ever had and a lot more than just a job. I’m proud of what we’ve managed – but we as team, not me as individual!
What drives you at work?
The people I work for and the people I work with have always been my incentive. Right now at the Hub: The great freedom of shaping this place, community and business. Not having to sell a product I don’t believe the world really needs, but instead promoting something that makes sense to me.
What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech?
Having to be around guys every day, all day long for 10 years…just kidding, but I do enjoy having a few women around now! It’s just a different set of conversations.
To be honest, I never felt disadvantaged by being a women in tech, so my challenges were those of all who are young and inexperienced in a job. Sure, there’s always a few stupid remarks, especially from older men, but usually it’s more an incapability of how to interact with women than bad will. I always felt I earned their respect in the end.
What advice would you give other women in tech?
Whether in tech or else were: Do what you want to do and stand up for yourself, by asking for the wage you think you should be paid, applying for that leadership position and letting people know when their behaviour is out of order.
Knapp 1’000 Frauen sitzen in einem grossen Saal im RAI Konferenz-Zentrum in Amsterdam an der European Women in Tech Konferenz. Den meisten der vereinzelt anwesenden Männern ist es ganz offensichtlich unwohl. Ich schmunzle ein wenig. Bei allen bisher von mir besuchten Tech-Konferenzen war das Verhältnis genau umgekehrt. Männerdomäne halt. Ich selber habe auch etwas gemischte Gefühle. Ob das gut geht mit so vielen Frauen auf einem Haufen?
Eröffnungsrede und Inspirationsreferat. Das Format des Events wird erklärt: Es gibt einen Inspiration Track im Plenum und einen Workshop- sowie einen Tech-Track in kleineren Gruppenräumen.
Ich mache mich auf, um im Hands-on-Workshop mit Christine Gerpheide von Amazon Webservices einen Chatbot mit Lex zu bauen. Mega coole Sache, dass sie ein sehr technisches Thema so einfach, sympathisch und auch für Nicht-Programmiererinnen (aber natürlich technisch versierte Frauen) erklären kann! Innerhalb einer Stunde habe ich die Basics verstanden und mein rudimentärer Bot zum Bestellen von Blumen (sunflowers, roses, tulips and dasies) ist up and running. Weiter geht’s in spannende Sessions mit den aktuellen Themen wie Holocracy, Mythen und Wahrheiten über Big Data, New Kid on the Block(chain). Im Plenum gibt’s die für mich persönlich ausgelaugten Klassiker wie Projekte in der digitalen Transformation, interdisziplinäre Teamzusammensetzung und CVs von sehr erfolgreichen Frauen in Führungspositionen. Alle Big Player sind hier, was mich sehr fasziniert: Microsoft, Uber, ebay, booking.com, Yelp, Volvo, Adidas, ING, elastic, Groupon, Tomtom und viele mehr. Zwischen den Sessions schlendert man durch Marktstände dieser namhaften Firmen, wo ich ganz einfach ins Gespräch komme. Ich trinke einen Espresso Macchiato bei Amazon und spreche mit Lisa, die für ein NGO Software entwickelt. Die Tasche mit den Giveaways ist schnell voll: Ein Splunk Shirt, eine Google Tasse und unzählige Spotify Stickers landen neben der Philipps Trinkflasche… Aber noch viel wichtiger: Fast alle Firmen wollen mich in Talentpools und Jobscouting Platforms aufnehmen!
Am Stand der IT-Diamonds, einer Jobvermittlungsfirma nur für Frauen in technischen Berufen, erfahre ich Spannendes von Sherry-Ann: Das Geschäft boomt – nicht nur in Holland – eine Expansion in weitere europäische Länder ist bereits angelaufen. Eigentlich spannend, dass in der Schweiz noch niemand auf die Idee gekommen ist! Ich tausche Email-Adressen hier und da und am Ende der Konferenz zähle ich einige LinkedIn Kontakte mehr auf meinem Profil. Nach einem halben Tag Sightseeing und der Heimreise habe ich bereits 5 Mails in der Inbox von den neuen Kontakten.
Mein Fazit zu European Women In Tech: Hochkarätige Konferenz, breites und zugleich tiefes, abwechslungsreiches Programm. Viele Experten und namhafte Firmen, die etwas zu erzählen und zu bieten haben. Preis-Leistung ist top, einfache und schnelle Anreise. Netzwerken und Kontakte (auch für nach der Konferenz) zu knüpfen läuft. Noch nie habe ich so viele Jobangebote und Möglichkeiten an einer Stelle angetroffen. Leider waren die Group Sessions der Tech- und Workshoptracks am zweiten Tag überfüllt und viele hatten keinen Zugang mehr. Das will der Veranstalter aber im nächsten Jahr ändern. Übrigens: Es war sehr angenehm, in dieser grossen Menge Frauen. Meine anfänglichen Zweifel sind schnell verflogen, weil viele coole Frauen da waren. Und sogar die Männer sind bis am Schluss geblieben. Ich werde wieder teilnehmen!
Sadly, our board member Marike Carsten who supported us for more than 1.5 years is leaving by the end of this year. Marike, your open mind was always a delight and your ability to tackle and get things done was and is pretty amazing – thank you for the time you spent with us and thank you for your good-bye blogpost with the wonderful title «one for all – all for one».
It’s a good question… Basel might not be your first thought when thinking about the most digitally forward cities of the world, Europe, or even Switzerland! However, you might be surprised. Basel has many forward thinking companies such as Adobe, our great host for the evening, and many exciting MedTech, FinTech, BioTech, Life Sciences start ups, in addition to social organizations such as Impact Hub. Times are changing, and thanks to WE SHAPE TECH, we’re determined to make it happen even faster.
WE SHAPE TECH is for people who are fascinated about tech and innovation, who want to be part of a community in this field, broaden their knowledge and skills, and exchange with people sharing the same passion and interests.
In addition, we aim to support women in gaining various skills in networking, communications, leadership and more.
Your WST Basel Team – Who Are We?!
WSTBasel was founded by three women who all have a personal connection to Basel and are related to tech and innovation in different ways.
Elaine Skapetis – “We are able to do and be everything we want, it needs passion and patience”
A warm, super-intelligent Brazilian that speaks an incredible six languages, Elaine has worked and lived in Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Greece – where she has her own Startup, and most recently, Switzerland – where she is now a Front End Developer and Diversity Ambassador for Adobe Basel. Gaining experience in multiple fields before pursuing her programming career, Elaine truly is a role model, motivated by fostering and engagement women in tech and innovation.
Melanie Kovacs – “Making code literacy the new normal”
For Mel, it’s all about the people she meets and the things they create together. Mel co-founded the non-profit Aspire to bring more diversity into tech. Since then, she’s facilitated several educational programs (Startup Weekend, Aspire Accelerator & Mentorship Program, TEDxZurich). When starting to learn to code she realized tech education needed to change. Her company, Master21 teaches people to code.
Aileen Zumstein – “Basel deserves a community in tech and innovation”
Aileen grew up in Basel and founded her communications consulting company, she frequently works with startups and other innovative companies. She portrays entrepreneurs to give them a platform to speak about their vision and passion. She believes that we all need take responsibility to be able to understand the meaning of digital transformation and be able to be part of it. Following code week and co-founding a software company, her focus is connecting people interested in tech and innovation and offering them with WST a community where they can learn, personally grow, exchange and get inspired.
Gen Ashley – “You cannot be what you can not see” In London, Gen is the Director of Women Who Code, and leads organisations such as Google WomenTechMakers, Google Developer Group, Twitter Developer London Community, and NASA Space Apps Challenge.. Pretty impressive huh?!
Gen flew all the way from London and discussed the importance of needing more (women) role models in leadership positions. To make this happen, we all need to inspire the young girls of today to pursue a career in STEM.
If you are thinking about a career in the tech industry but worried you don’t have the skills or confidence, Gen explained how you don’t need a computer science degree to get into tech. Instead, be your authentic self. For example, if you like dresses – go for it! Don’t feel that you have to change the way you are just because you’re in a techie environment.
Désirée Mettraux – “I want to encourage women who have a conflict between choosing a family or a career, to choose both”
CEO of Creadi AG and co-founder of myCamper. Désirée, also has two very important people in her life – her twin girls. Encouraging women to choose both a family and career, she shared with us some key strategies for managing these two priorities, as well as overcoming challenges as a CEO:
Desiree’s departing words of advice:
Stay as you are! – Always follow your way, be authentic, and pursue it persistently.
The show must go on! – Every day it starts again – never give up – carry on.
Surround yourself with the right people! – Network is key. Do not waste your time with the wrong people just to be nice. You do not always have to be nice.
Find out more about Creadi AG here, and myCamper here.
Strong Networks are Fundamental for Success
We all know that having a great network is fundamental for personal success. Therefore, a key part of what we want to support and nurture at WST Basel is providing a space for exactly that to happen.
We put together six ‘speed networking’ questions for you to get to know your peers just that little bit better.
PS. Although the evening is over, try asking these to colleagues at work, at other events, socials – you might just be surprised what you hear in response and find some new likeminded people 🙂
When was the last time you laughed, and why?
When was the last time you swore, and why?
If you had the chance to change something(s) immediately, what would it be (private life & business/work)?
When you are at networking event, what is the first thing you do? What is your strategy to get to know someone?
When was the last time you treated yourself? What was it/ what did you do?
If you could define yourself, what would be your personal hashtag, and why?
We finished off the wonderful evening with an apero, networking, and delicious food.
A huge thanks again to all of those who came and joined us for the evening, we hope to see you all again very soon!
Coming Up…. February 28th, 2018
Be sure to keep an eye on your inbox, our website, and social media for news on our next event here in Basel – just a couple of months away on February 28th 2018.
We wish you all a wonderful Christmas and will look forward to seeing you in the New Year!
How to Contact Us
If February is too far away, if you have ideas you’d like to share with us, or feedback on our first event, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us on any of our social channels or via email MAIL@WESHAPE.TECH
Last but not least, thank you again to our fantastic sponsor, Adobe Basel, for making this great event possible.
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.
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.