“Companies must promote women in all areas” – an interview with Priska Altorfer

Translation of the interview given to silicon.de on 8 March 2024  

Current studies show that the proportion of women in IT remains below 20 percent. What are the reasons for this? Is it male dominance that makes it difficult for women to gain a foothold in IT? Are women less interested in IT? We asked Priska Altorfer, Group CEO of wikima4 AG.  

Q. How do you assess the role of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions in the Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (DACH region), especially in the technology sector? 

A. In the technology sector of STEM professions, the proportion of women has remained constant at between 15 and 18 percent in recent years. Unfortunately, we are a long way from the 25 percent target. However, this level would be necessary to avert the risk of regression. At this current level, the topic is still not a sure-fire success. Active measures to increase or maintain the proportion of women are necessary. 

Nevertheless, a change can be noticed. The acceptance of women in the technology sector in everyday professional life and in society has increased, and women can also be found at the highest executive levels in the technology sector. It is unclear to what extent regulatory pressure has contributed to this trend.  

Q. What is being done well at school and training levels and which initiatives do you think still have a lot of work to do? 

A. In all DACH countries, there are public and private initiatives to promote computer science education for boys and girls. In Switzerland, for example, computer science training begins in the 4th grade and is no longer an elective subject. In this way, technology is taught to all students and reduces the gender gap in this area. 

Unfortunately, computer science is often taught at the training level with a technical focus. The promotion of social skills, such as communication, networked thinking, and targeted creativity, are often in the background. These skills are just as important for success in computer science. Teachers are a critical success factor in this area. On the one hand, female role models are needed, and on the other hand, enthusiasm for this subject must be encouraged at this level.  

Q. Which careers do you think have the most potential and/or opportunities for women? 

A. All STEM careers offer great potential and opportunities for women. The promotion of women benefits those whose inclinations make them feel comfortable in an environment that is still male dominated. Young women are supported very well—certainly not in all companies—but there are many that explicitly look for and support women.  

Q. What has the experience of last year been: has the gap narrowed, or is the situation unchanged? 

The last few years have been characterized by social and regulatory pressure for change. Young, well-educated women in technology experienced almost no restrictions compared to their male colleagues. Only on the career ladder can a difference be seen in certain situations until the famous glass ceiling comes into view. 

Regulatory pressure is now making it possible for talented women, who generally have less influential networks, to get into positions because the company is “obliged” to do so. It is also successful women that we see in these areas.  

Q. Do you think the necessary measures are being taken to narrow this gap? What do you think should be done to achieve this? 

A. Companies must be prepared to promote women at all levels and areas. One-sided programs like “Little Scientist” or “Girls in Coding” are not sufficient. A company should offer training and further education programs that include all hierarchy levels, specialist, and management areas. Smart companies use these initiatives to increase their chances on the recruiting market as an attractive employer. 

For example, the association organization CEPIS (Council of European Professional Informatics Societies) offers a validated certification for companies with its DiversIT Charter, which confirms and makes visible the sustainable promotion of women.  

Q. What is the proportion of women in your organization? Are measures being taken to achieve equal representation? What do these consist of?  

A. We are proud and happy, because at the wikima4 group, we have a proportion of women of 50%. We achieved the goal with the following measures: 

  • Flexible working models for all employees with children 
  • Training support for career changers 
  • Offering internship positions, especially for young professionals 
  • Leading KPIs on gender issues in the company 
  • Positioning wikima4 as an attractive employer for women 
  • Cooperation 

The wikima4 employees are involved in national and international IT and women in IT organizations.  

Q. What experiences have you had, and have you ever felt abandoned by your colleagues because you are a woman? 

A. I have worked in male-dominated professions all my life. Before computer science, I was an international commodities trader. I was lucky that I was able to work internationally – and since I was one of the few women, I “couldn’t be compared.” Of course, I earned less than my male colleagues. However, since the salary was higher than that of my colleagues at the time, I accepted the deal. As a woman, I have advantages and disadvantages in my professional life. I had an advantage when it came to making commercial deals. In computer science, on the other hand, as a woman, at the beginning I had to prove my competence constantly, much more than my male colleagues. Today it is better. I cannot conclusively judge whether this development is due to the environment or to myself. 

I think it is a mix: when people are in the right place, they thrive. 

Read the interview (in German) on Silicon.de website. 

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