While the rest of the world is struggling with diversity and inclusion with women in the technology sector, one country is soaring above rest with much ease. Russia, an unlikely contender in the race to gender equity throughout various sectors, but especially technology, the country can boasts of its researchers because about 40 percent of them are women, according to a study conducted by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. It just gets better as local companies like Yandex, popularly known as the Russian version of Google, reports that a third of their employees are women, which is so much more than many local companies in the US. Not only Russia, but the counties surrounding it like Bulgaria and Romania are doing well above average in diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There are many intriguing reasons why so many young women have chosen and are choosing STEM careers and interestingly, there is more to Russian culture than meets the eye, which is one of the reasons why there are so many women in the tech industry.
Young schoolgirls are in fact encouraged to choose science and mathematics-related subjects
“Culturally, women in Eastern Europe are characterized as having a forthright nature and this means they’re more inclined to speak up for themselves and be hardy to rejection, which is typically needed in a male-dominated environment,” says Jane Frankland, managing director at Cyber Security Capital in the UK and author of the book InSecurity. She also believes that there is little to no stigma associated with women choosing to study computers and young schoolgirls are in fact encouraged to choose science and mathematics-related subjects, and perform well in it.
Encouragement towards STEM careers must come from within the family first
A certain Elena Tverdokhlebova revealed that her obstinate brother and 3,000 Russian rubles were all it took for her to get into the tech field. “I was 10 years old when my brother, who was studying for the university admissions exams, gave me a math problem to solve. To his surprise, I was able to solve it, and he gave me 3,000 rubles, about $100 at that time.” Becoming addicted to solving mathematical problems, what began as a small incentive helped her to first study maths and later computer science; she became addicted, she revealed. Now a data scientist, Tverdokhlebova, became a part of an all-women Russian team who won the coveted International Quant Championship, a fintech tournament created by computer-powered hedge fund WorldQuant. On her team, she said, “We’re all working in machine learning and data science. We have a good harmony inside our team.” However, one the biggest source of encouragement in her life was her mother when she saw that her daughter had a natural bent towards mathematics. She pushed her to study harder in something Tverdokhlebova was already interested in. “I think it usually comes from the family,” Shpakova said. She’s not wrong since familial encouragement plays a big role in one’s choice of career.
“In Russia, even the very youngest were extremely focused on the fact that their future employment opportunities were more likely to be rooted in STEM subjects.”
Meanwhile, in 2017, Microsoft conducted a study that revealed that over 60 percent of Russian parents encourage their daughters to pursue academics and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. About 55 percent of Russian girls agree that there are many role models for them with regards to STEM, only 35 percent of Dutch girls agreed with the same. The report also stated that ‘Russian girls become interested in science, tech, engineering, and math at the age of 10, a year before the rest of Europe.’ This sort of spirit has also made Russian girls very competitive and more determined to prove themselves as they advance at school, college, and the workplace. Head of the Russia chapter of Tech London Advocates, Alina Bezuglova said, “It never occurred to me at school that because I’m a girl I shouldn’t be choosing Stem, and in the workplace, I don’t see much sexism, only that you’re judged on your abilities.” A BBC reports also declared that, “Most of the girls we talked to from other countries had a slightly playful approach to STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math], whereas, in Russia, even the very youngest were extremely focused on the fact that their future employment opportunities were more likely to be rooted in STEM subjects.”
Looking at history, women were pushed to be breadwinners just like Russian men
Few know the history behind why there are so many Russian women in tech today because the truth is that it actually goes back about a hundred years. It was the 1920s when Russian became one of few countries to establish equal rights in the sphere of education and work for both men and women. This legislation resulted in the number of women increased to a great extent, from 10 percent in 1917 to 42 percent in 1938 stated the Russian Ministry of Education. Also, the Soviet regime which required a great workforce encouraged women to work and encouraged them to be both mothers and employees. From factory work to technical jobs, women were pushed to be breadwinners just like Russian men. Hence, since technical education was open to everyone regardless of gender, Russian girls and women have a more positive outlook towards STEM than their counterparts in many parts of the world. So, when Girls Who Code declared that there is truly a problem in attracting girls to STEM education and keeping them in the industry, in businesses both big and small, Russia, however, wasn’t facing the same problem.
So, it looks like parental encouragement and Russia’s opinions on working women have played a huge role in women taking up STEM careers. This study has also shown that talent alone is not enough to carry a girl through, support and a gender bias-free education and workplaces are equally important to ensure that girls enter and are retained in this industry. Therefore, there a lot that the rest of the world can learn in terms of increasing gender equity in the tech world.
Image credit: Digital Russia