Women are still significantly underrepresented in IT professions. Only about 8 percent of all IT apprentices in Germany are female (source: Statistisches Bundesamt, 2020). The IT world of work has traditionally been considered a male domain, even though programming, for example, was still a typical female occupation in the 1980s as busywork for office staff. One exception was the U.S. computer scientist and computer pioneer Grace Hopper who worked with the Mark I, the world’s first fully electronic computer, at Harvard University from the mid-1940s.
There are also economic reasons why policymakers and the industry are trying to attract more women to IT professions: Due to the shortage of skilled workers, vacant IT positions can no longer be filled (source: Handelsblatt) . Nevertheless, young women in the IT sector still have to contend with obstacles and prejudices.
We asked Cristiane Stülp about her personal experiences on her way to becoming an IT specialist and what advice she would give to young women interested in following the same career path.
The young Brazilian with German roots emphasizes that, at the beginning of her path, a certain amount of risk-taking was required to even go to Germany. Her family played an important role. In a way, her older sister, who had completed an agricultural internship in Germany, served as a female role model. Cristiane Stülp had initially planned only a one-year internship – in the meantime, she has been in Germany for almost five years.
The IT specialist reports that her family has an agricultural business in Brazil. However, her parents never mapped out her career path in accordance with their expectations, but were always open to her own career aspirations. One thing she learnt from the agricultural environment was to assert herself. She emphasizes that she is not afraid of working as the only women in a team of men.
Her interest in IT came also from her personal background. Even as a girl, she had to stand up to her brothers to get her fair share of limited computer time. Her partner, who works in the IT sector, always encouraged her to pursue her interests in the field and to look for a vocational training. This again required assertiveness and persistence – both in dealing with the immigration authorities and in the search for a vocational training institution.
When choosing her career, she never had anyone advising her against an IT vocational training – although many were surprised. For her colleagues, too, it was new territory to no longer work only among men – but she never encountered any prejudice or resistance in the IT team, which Cristiane Stülp likes to jokingly call “my guys”. On the contrary, she has experienced great appreciation, support, and encouragement.
Working in a mixed team has proved successful. The IT department would like to recruit more female trainees, but there is a shortage of applicants. In the last round of applications, their share was far below 5 percent. When it comes to internal tasks, Cristiane Stülp also likes to seek out responsibility, for example for the younger apprentices. She believes that it is her specifically “female” quality that she can identify organizational improvement potential and thus contribute to solutions with greater sustainability as part of the team.
Although women tend to have higher exit rates in male-dominated professions (source: Accenture, 2020), Cristiane wants to continue working in the IT field after her training. She is particularly interested in system administration. She is happy to continue working at the Institute after her exams.
The training and examination period during the COVID-19 pandemic brought great additional challenges and also personal losses – Cristiane Stülp overcame all this with great mental strength and maturity. She also emphasizes that it was striking that she encountered very few young female IT trainees in the vocational school environment, but rather independent adult women.
After her successful training, she is first and foremost looking forward to seeing her family in Brazil as soon as this is possible. At the end of the interview, she makes a wonderful closing statement: “I, as a woman here at the Institute, am just happy.” She would take the same path again at any time.
(The interview was conducted by Myriam Rion, Hella Schuster, and Ulrike Garlet.)