"IT gives women a lot of freedom"
Interview with Lucie Šlefrová, an HR manager at a Czech IT company NOTIX
Global statistics shows us that the number of women in IT is growing every year, and we even know how many of them work in the big 5 tech companies, or GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft). But we decided to go further, and to find out more about the personal experiences of these women working in IT, so we have started a series of interviews with talented women working in small and medium-sized European Information Technology companies.
We are glad to present you with our first interview, with Lucie Šlefrová, an HR manager at a Czech IT firm NOTIX. We asked Lucie about her own experience, her observation of general trends of women in IT, their role in the companies, as well as the challenges obstacles that women often face when they choose a tech career.
- What is it like from a woman’s perspective to work in the IT industry, which is still dominated by men? Do men in the field take women seriously? Do they accept them?
- I would say that in general, the trend of women in IT is heading in a promising direction and women are welcome in the field. My colleagues always say that anytime a woman is present, working on a project or in the office, the working atmosphere is significantly improved. Women are often more reliable, and the work on a project is much enriched by their presence compared to exclusively male teams. On the other hand, from our experience we can tell that an exclusively female team is also not ideal, so we definitely prefer mixed gender teams. Women are a part of IT and their number is growing.
When it comes to salary, they are usually less demanding, but that applies mostly to young women at the beginning of their careers. Later, when they have more experience, then the compensation is rather equal. I can’t say men would have higher salaries than women in the same positions, at least not in our company. Although, men probably have the courage to go ask for a higher salary more often than women, and if they don’t get it, they have a higher tendency to search for other opportunities on the market and leave the company, which might not be the case for women.
- You mentioned that when women are present in projects, the working process gets better. I have heard many times that women are more detail oriented, so is this one of the things that improves the work of the team?
- They are definitely more diligent, and they tend to be more focused. While men can sometimes get a bit all over the place, women take their task, and they go straight for it. But of course, it depends on the particular person in question, we can’t really make generalizations, saying that women are always better at one thing and men at another. Yet we generally have a very good experience with having women on the team.
- Have you ever experienced disrespect from senior male IT workers as a recruiter? Did they say that you don’t really understand the tech area or something along those lines?
- Perhaps at the beginning of my career, but the more experience you get and more information you acquire, more capable you are to have a professional conversation with a candidate. I have never done recruiting by reaching to people on LinkedIn, where the candidates are more demanding when it comes to technical things, but I had rather been reaching to people who were actively looking for a position, who were included in some database, and I have never had any problems with that, not in the last 5 years.
- I know you worked in a different area before. How did you get to work in IT?
- I started with IT at the end of my studies when I started at the position of an assistant at a Czech IT company. In the meantime, I finished my studies, which were focused on HR. Then I transitioned to HR and that was it. Over the time of my career, I have worked outside IT for about 2 years, but other than that, I have worked in IT the whole time.
- Was it your dream job to work in IT?
- I think it was a coincidence. By the way, my husband is an IT guy, so maybe there is an element of destiny in this.
- So, there must be a lot you two have in common!
- We surely do, we both even work for the same company, so it is a huge topic for us.
- Coming back to what we already touched on, that women are more diligent at work etc., which other positive things do women bring to IT?
- I think that we are better at multitasking, maybe because we are mothers. A lot of my colleagues are mothers at this point, so the time management skills naturally get better. I would say that in this respect, women are way more organized; they are better at estimating man-days, for example. So, it is better from this perspective.
Then, of course, my colleagues are glad there are not only men at Christmas parties. I don’t know the exact numbers, but from the 120-130 people here, there are around 30-40 women in here today. Which I think is a relatively high number. We would be happy to have more of them but the job market today is lacking candidates. Yet women do come often to us. For instance, we recently hired a woman who only completed a course at Czechitas (a non-profit educational Czech organization in IT field), which I find interesting.
- Do you see a progress in terms of women showing more interest in IT and also getting more education in that area?
- A lot of our candidates, especially for the junior tester positions, have an HR background. Maybe they acquired some knowledge about the IT area while working as recruiters, and the salaries are definitely very attractive, so I have encountered many cases of HR women being interested in working in IT. We have two such employees here. One of them is a tester and she used to work as a recruiter, while the other one used to do internal HR, and now she is a brilliant analyst here.
- Have you ever considered working as a tester or something similar?
- Just as a joke, when I have a hard time finding employees, I joke about learning to code myself. But I don’t think that is something I would be very good at. So, I will probably stay where I am.
- What do you like the most about your job?
- I would say what I like is closely linked to the company where I work. NOTIX has been on the market for 6 years and everything had to be built from scratch. I joined the company one or two years after it started, and I have witnessed the development of the company from a small, 30-employees company to today's 100+. I enjoy working with the people, building the corporate culture, and doing it in a way so that in 20 years I will not look back and think “I should have done it differently”. So, this is what I really enjoy about the job, and I get a lot of freedom and opportunities from the company’s board to come up with literally anything. Of course, it is difficult now with COVID, but we are constantly trying to push and move forward.
- What about diversity in your company? We talked about the proportion of women, but what about nationalities other than Czechs and Slovaks, for instance?
- We have Czech and Slovak employees, and we tried employees from Russian speaking countries and similar, but it did not work due to the language barrier. After a year at our company, they still hadn’t really learned Czech, and since we are focusing primarily on the Czech market, and not all of employees can speak English on professional level. We had one Georgian person working for us for some time, but he spoke Czech very well. A Ukrainian woman is going to join us soon, yet she also has been living in Czechia for a long time now. So, we do welcome international employees, but it is important that they can speak Czech, which is often a barrier for many people.
- Which advice would you give to the young women who think about a tech career?
- I would like to encourage women not to be afraid of IT by any means. On the contrary, they are very welcome in the industry. A lot of young girls in high schools who are making decisions about their future careers are a bit afraid to start in a technical field, but they don’t have to. When you look at statistics from various universities, you can see that female students actually more often finish their studies successfully, while guys might be more laid back and neglecting their studies. So, yeah, girls, come join IT!
Women are also afraid that they would not be hired for a project because they have children, but part time agreements are supported in our company. We have some mothers here working 4 or 6 hours a day, for instance. I also have a child and I worked until 7 hours before labour and I started again a week after giving birth, and it works.
- So, yours is one of the cases when a woman did not stay at home for a lengthy maternity leave, because she enjoyed her work so much that she decided she wanted to work again very soon after having a child.
- Yes, of course there is the home office option, and it requires a bit more of flexibility, but everything is possible. Where there is will, there is a way. If someone says that a woman can’t have a career, it is not true, it really comes down to the determination of the woman and to finding the right employer who will make it possible for her.
- Do you have a set work time, or...?
- I would say that it is very flexible, I work 4 days a week, usually in the mornings, but I am available any time, whenever needed. I have a team of two hard working girls, so a lot of the daily administrative work is in their hands now. I have a great recruiter, so I don’t really have to recruit myself anymore and instead I can spend time working on projects, or more complex tasks, development tasks etc. So, this type of work can be done even at midnight if needed.
- Are you happy overall with your situation, do you ever regret spending time at work instead of with your child?
- Definitely not. Maybe in certain moments, but overall, I would die of boredom if I had to stay at home the whole time. I am not the kind of mother who centers her whole life just around her child. I need a balance. Of course, if I didn’t have support from my husband and my family, I would probably not be sitting here right now, but fortunately, everything has worked out so far.
I think that IT gives women a lot of freedom and that is very important. The fact that it is possible to work remotely and manage your work in a way that fits you and your circumstances is crucial. HR is maybe not so ideal for remote work, but it is still possible.