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IWD 2023: Why women are more attracted to problem-solving than technology

This year's theme for IWD is DigitAll: Innovation and technology for gender equality aligning with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), which promotes innovation, technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

Here, van Oerle talks about what inspired her to go into the industry, whom she turns to for mentorship and support, the challenges she has experienced in her career and what advice she would give to a young woman looking for a career in the technology sector.

Technology is part of the fabric of everyday life

Van Oerle admits that she doesn't have a software development background, and she didn't set out to embark upon a career in technology.

"I ended up here through an unusual route. I wanted to solve problems in the businesses I was working in. I became finance manager for a software development company, I didn't have a finance background either, but I did have a problem-solving attitude and a willingness to take ownership of fixing things," van Oerle says.

"Part of that role was appreciating the problems that the technology we were creating could solve for our customers. Customers kept approaching me to help answer their questions and implement their requirements – and as they say the rest is history. Today, technology is so intrinsic to everything we do, that you cannot choose a career that won't involve either using or adapting to use, technology in some shape or form."

Van Oerle talks about the key influences that have shaped her career.

"Unfortunately I haven't had any female mentors. In the early days there were hardly any women in the same situation as me - married with children - therefore my role models were men. These male mentors were more informal, but their advice really helped me to manage and position myself in the workplace. My husband, in particular, has been incredibly helpful and supportive, encouraging me to go for opportunities but also being there as a backup when needed," van Oerle says.

"In fact, I was specifically told by one of the senior women I worked with that if I wanted flexible working or fewer hours, I could say goodbye to my career. Thankfully twenty years on, attitudes have changed and there is much more support and legislation to prevent these types of conversations from being tabled. I strongly believe that flexible working isn't a gender issue, it's an equality issue; it is a requirement for all parents in our modern workforce so that both parents can maintain a career. I was able to do the jobs I have done not because I had employers that were flexible but because I had a partner who was."

Different approaches

"One area where I think we do differ from men is around confidence. Men will say yes to something and worry about how to do it afterwards. Whereas women will think through the requirement and determine whether they can deliver before they say yes," van Oerle adds.

"My advice to any young women coming into the profession is don't be afraid of failing; in my view, you don't fail, you just adapt. Also, trust your instincts. I haven't always followed my instinct, and this has led to frustration and limiting thinking. Be yourself and be confident in your own ability."

Van Oerle is an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Lead at Farnborough Sixth Form College and talks about the advice she gives to female students.

"Everyone must do what they enjoy and do it with as much enthusiasm as possible. Sometimes we overthink the future that we lose the enjoyment in our careers," she says.

"So, my advice is when an opportunity presents itself: just say yes, just give it a go; what is the worst that can happen? There are so many evolving roles in technology, and young women will have the advantages that these will bring. The workplace is changing so rapidly, they can quickly pivot, adapt, and try new things."

Van Oerle goes on to explain how important it is to get into the job market to build skills and experience, and she adds that even if a particular job doesn't work out, the individual will have skills and experience they didn't have before. She says that it is important to think about how to position yourself in the workplace – not too timid, but equally not overconfident, and above all, to listen and build empathy.

"Learn your strengths and play to them, don't feel they are lesser skills because you see them as feminine. The skills a working Mum has in time management, organisational skills and keeping order and authority are the same as you use in a workplace," van Oerle notes.

Work models will adapt to young people

One of the challenges she sees the younger generation tackling is that they don't necessarily want to fit into the traditional work model of past generations. Expectations and ethics are different now and will continue to change. Van Oerle believes that the work world will adapt around young people and as generations pass, so the cadence of work will change as it becomes more digitised.

Ultimately, there are still not enough women in technology, and van Oerle says women still select themselves out of a technology career at an early age.

"Women are looking at STEM and Sciences, but they are not choosing software development. They are going into other areas, and this is a big challenge for the industry," van Oerle says.

"I believe the use of technology creates a more equal playing field from a gender perspective. Here at Netcompany, we do have a good, diverse, mix of men and women, but it isn't 50/50. So how do we encourage more girls at a younger age? Perhaps we need to switch from a technology lens to a problem-solving lens to attract more women into the industry."

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