Rocío Van Nierop
Co-Founder and CEO
Latinas in Tech
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Boosting Latina Participation in Tech One Step at a Time

By Andrea Villar | Fri, 06/11/2021 - 06:00

Q: Latinas in Tech’s mission is to provide the resources, opportunities and community that Latin women need to thrive in tech. What specific actions are you taking to achieve these objectives?

A: We have a variety of programs to achieve our goals. The first is events, which before the pandemic were face-to-face conferences. They started out as small events that consisted of half an hour of networking, an hour of content and another half-hour of networking. We held these every month or two. When the pandemic hit, we moved to weekly webinars every Thursday. While this might sound like a disadvantage, the reality is that we can now reach thousands of people through a single event instead of just 100. In less than a year, we went from 11,000 members to 15,000. 

We also have mixers, which we are organizing to replace the networking that used to take place at face-to-face events. We use this tool so Latin women can get to know each other and build relationships. This also helps recruiters from big companies get to know them. We also have tools on our website where tech companies can see the profiles of our members and chat with them. In addition, we send out a newsletter with job offers from companies. 

Other programs are more executive in nature. We offer a mentoring program, for example, through which we help to generate business relationships. We believe that for every female mentor we promote, five women can be helped. Mentoring is key and that is why we not only seek out the most senior female Latin mentors but also other allies. There is still a glass ceiling and Latinas in positions of power are few. We have an entrepreneurial program where we do a whole day of training inside a tech company to help people unlearn the stigma attached to being a woman or a Latina. We give women the tools to accelerate growth at companies. 

Q: What are the main challenges you have identified when empowering women?

A: Challenges are everywhere. Tech companies may want to do things right but, unfortunately, nobody has found the formula for success yet. It is all about trial and error. Over the last few years, we have seen companies try and fail and try again. In a market like the US, we struggle to push Latin women forward. But in Latin American markets like Mexico, the barrier is not being a Latina but simply being a woman. Those countries are far behind in terms of giving women a chance and it is very hard for us to change the macho mentality. There are people, for example, who approach big consulting firms but do not want a woman to advise them. They do not trust her because of her gender. That kind of thinking is incredibly backward, although it is no longer as prevalent in the US. We have to learned to deal with these situations to encourage systemic and personal change.

Q: What prevents women from joining the tech sector?

A: I like to look at this in two ways. The first is what you can control as a woman, such as personal stigmas or the impostor syndrome. On the other hand, there are the systemic things that are not in our power to control, like the stigmas perceived by others; how they react to the fact that you are a Latin woman, which is also linked to the gender pay gap and what companies are doing to stop this from happening. That said, we are struggling right now to create change; progress will be slow. We probably will not see reality change during our working lives. However, where we do have an immediate impact is within ourselves. 

We help Latinas see that they can transform themselves to accelerate their growth. At the same time, we work with businesses and governments to try to enact changes in the system. The latter can change but it will be in the medium to long term, while personal development is short term. 

Q: What partnerships do you have to promote education for women in IT careers?

A: We still have few partners because our focus is more on Latinas already working in tech and the success they can achieve. The virtual events we do are inspirational. If a woman who is a migrant, Black or Latina sees that someone like her is in a position of power in a big company, she will no longer question whether or not she can get to the same place. That has a very strong impact. What we do is invite female students to our events to be inspired in the same way. We also offer trainings so women can learn coding or data analytics, for example. 

Q: What was the main driver for founding Latinas in Tech?

A: Both Gretel Perera, Co-Founder of the project, and myself are Latinas in tech. We met in 2014. At that time, there were not many other Latinas working in tech companies, so we formed a bond around that. We then found more and more women until we were hundreds. The project was born as we sat down and shared the opportunities we saw. We focused on how we could go further instead of why we were not getting further ahead.

 

Latinas in Tech is a nonprofit organization focused on creating a tech industry where Latinas are well-represented throughout all levels of the ecosystem, empowering them to be innovators and leaders

Photo by:   Latinas in Tech
Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst