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On Women in Technology — Breaking Barriers

By Cailyn Ong

· Asia,Technology,Women,Education

Cailyn Ong shares her experience working with WiTech, a youth-led community organization

celebrating Women in Technology.

For many young girls interested in STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, Mathematics), the road to a successful career is paved with hardships and obstacles: an unsupportive community, a lack of good mentors and role models, and gender-based discrimination and maltreatment in the workplace all contribute to the lack of women in technology. This environment steers many girls away, contributing to the gender gap in technology. Determined not to succumb to this challenge, a student searched for a platform that featured the stories of women in STEM — finding none, she decided to create one and WiTech was born.

Audrey Pe is a junior in high school who in 2016, founded WiTech — a blog showcasing stories of women in science and technology. It has since expanded into a community organization with a goal to inspire young people to break gender barriers — challenging the norm and closing the gender gap in technology.

Last March 3, 2018, WiTech held WiTCon 2018 — the first-ever women in technology conference by students at Accenture Client Visitor Center, Taguig City, Philippines. The conference featured speakers from different fields of science and technology like robotics and biotechnology. Over a hundred students and educators attended the event which was met with positive feedback.

“It was really fulfilling to see people come because they were interested in the cause. One of the biggest worries I had was that there wouldn’t be a market for it. But regardless of how many participants showed up, it was all worth it once I saw two 9 year old girls turn up at the event. It made me realize that they were the people I was doing this for,” Chiara Ledesma, WiTCon’s participants relations head shared.

Activities at WitCon 2018

Photos by WiTech

For Women’s Month this March, WiTech’s returns to it’s roots: writing about the journeys of women in STEM and highlighting their contributions to society. My involvement with WiTech started with an invitation by my friend Marla Abao, the Programs Head, to help her in organizing WiTCon. I had heard of WiTech before, but wasn’t very familiar with it, and in my exploration stumbled upon the blog. I was amazed — as a student geared towards STEM, I have been frustrated time and time again by the lack of female role models and mentors in the field. Yet here on this blog I found a surplus of stories about amazing women who are doing things I’ve always dreamed of doing. This sparked my admiration for the incredible ladies featured in these stories and the desire to write more about them.

The WiTech blog features incredible women who are changing the STEM industry. The ladies we write about are from all sorts of backgrounds and professions. These women do a variety of things, including creating apps, organizing hackathons, and modelling microbial communities.

One of the women whose story inspired me is Deepa Rao — a biological oceanographer studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She models microbial communities to understand the different factors that control their communities and productivity and the implications of these factors on climate and ocean food webs. In her WiTech feature, Deepa talks about how finding a good mentor was a challenge for her, and advises women who want to pursue STEM careers to follow their passion and engage in interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving.

Deepa Rao

photo from Deepa's FB Page

Another incredible woman in STEM is Ambe Tierro, an Accenture Senior Managing Director and the first from the Philippines. In her WiTech article, she talks about her journey in technology — taking the fast-track to where she is now. When asked what she looks forward to in the tech industry, she shares her vision for technology to be able to solve the world’s pressing problems, especially in medicine. She encourages young women to start building their knowledge, destroy the notion that STEM is for nerds, and to give careers in engineering a chance.

Ambe Tierro, Senior Managing Director of Accenture

Photo from Witech

Recently, WiTech also featured a woman whose achievements in life are not limited by her disability. Aditi Shah was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa — a genetic disease which affects the retina and blocks eyesight. She went completely blind at 15, yet this has not hindered her from reaching great heights and breaking barriers as a woman in STEM. She shares that people underestimated her ability because she was blind, yet in the past few years, she has been destroying that notion as she has quickly proven her capabilities. She advocates for accessible technology and further developments in cybersecurity. To people with disabilities, she says, “The world can gain more from what you can do, not from what you cannot.”

Aditi Shah

Photo from WiTech

“It is my dream for young people around the world to be inspired by WiTech interviewees and think that they themselves can overcome any barriers or gender stereotypes set against them. I’m extremely passionate about sharing the stories of women in tech because behind any strong person are their role models. For the youth, especially girls, it is the goal of WiTech to be their source of inspiration — their motivation when they struggle to see if they fit in tech,” WiTech founder Audrey Pe said on the importance of writing about women in technology.

Audrey Pe (center) with the WiTech Team

Photo from WiTech

As WiTech continues to grow, now with more than 50+ members from 16 different high schools and universities, I hope to become more involved and contribute more ideas and help to planning future events and widening the sphere of our impact. I also hope to continue to improve my personal skills in technology and pursue the fields of STEM I’m interested in.

Visit WiTech's website at www.wi-tech.org

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