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Women on Their Career in Technology: “In Our Work There Is No Division into Male or Female Tasks”

06.03.2020
Source: RusBase

What is the career of women in Russia in areas that are traditionally considered as “male”: technology, science, and innovation?

We talked about this with female project leaders of the National Technology Initiative. They work on the very frontier of technology: those who create drones, new energy sources, and neuro-assistants. And they do it most often in the men's company.

Neurophysiology unites women and men

Natalia Galkina, project manager, NeuroChat NTI, the founder of the Neurotrend Company:
Today, there are not very many women in the technology business in Russia. According to my observations, about 20-30%. At the same time, I see a positive trend: every year, the number of us is getting a little bigger. From my own experience, I can say that women are very rarely faced with some kind of explicit gender discrimination in technology.

The technology business is a professional community where competence is paramount, not gender.

I am in neurophysiology, and in this industry, in general, there are many great female researchers — for example, Natalia Bekhtereva and Tatyana Stroganova. Hence, there is no chance for speculating on the fact that this area has developed solely due to the contribution of male scientists.

When we started our project, no one made gender indulgences for anyone. The main task was to find financing. We needed to raise about $1 million to launch the laboratory. It was not easy. We attracted private investors to the project. I, for example, pledged my country house then. But we coped with it. Moreover, in 2014, the Neurotrend laboratory was nevertheless created.

It so happened that in the same year, on behalf of the president, the National Technology Initiative began to operate in the country. Besides, our laboratory was one of the first projects that fell into the focus of NTI. We realized that our developments could really be in demand.

Our company is engaged in neuromarketing. We are trying to understand how exactly a person perceives this or that advertisement.

People themselves, of course, can share their impressions after watching the video, but oral evidence is usually not accurate. A person simply cannot describe some of his sensations while he cannot notice others.

Our methodology makes it possible to determine what part of the video a respondent watched, what is called without taking his eyes off, or what frame caused him the most vivid emotions. The eye tracker, EEG, and polygraph, which real-time tracks the respiratory rhythm, heartbeat, and electrical resistance of the skin, help determine all these.

By the way, the neurophysiology of men and women unites rather than vice versa. The reaction of different sexes to a particular video, of course, is different. Still, these differences cannot be called so fundamental.

Since 2016, we have been developing another project — NeuroChat. This is a system of neuro communication and neuro training, which allows people with speech and movement disorders to translate mental efforts into specific commands for the computer keyboard. Our team includes not only neurophysiologists and people with a technical education but also psychologists, marketers, and other experts.

In science, it is impossible to go with the flow

Nina Smirnova, professor of the SRSPU (NPI), the project manager of the Polytech, finalist of the Up Great technology contest “The First Element”:
While Russian technology start-ups, typically, have really few women, especially among the founders, then in the scientific community, the situation is entirely different. Even among researchers in technical disciplines there are many women. And they do not feel any misunderstanding or pressure from colleagues of men. However, they also do not have any odds. Here everyone is accountable on an equal footing.

The University of Castile-La Mancha at one time conducted a rather interesting study. The Spaniards, having analysed the results of more than four thousand technology companies, found that the most breakthrough innovations are created when not only men but also women are working on a particular project. Researchers concluded that such cooperation significantly increases the possibility of the appearance of fundamentally new solutions, new markets.

If we really want to achieve a synergistic effect, then separating men and women into different laboratories makes no sense.

I am engaged in the development of mobile power plants for hydrogen fuel cells. Last year, the team of our university entered the top three finalists of the Up Great contest “The First Element”, after which the Ministry of Education and Science allocated us a grant of 30 million roubles so that we could complete the project.

Our team mainly consists of youngsters. These are engineers and scientists, energetic and ambitious people in the right way. Men and women working on a project are approximately 50/50. I think this only strengthens us.

Of course, women in this kind of work are a little harder. It so happened that we need to more consciously prioritise and carefully consider how to achieve a balance between work and family.

Someone has to choose, and it's hard. I was lucky; my family understands well enough why I am engaged in science, and calmly perceives all the problems associated with this type of activity, supports me and helps me move on. As they say, you work during the day to keep up with others, and at night — to get ahead.

It is difficult to imagine the reverse situation: in science, you must continue to study every day, always. The world around us is changing too fast. And if you really want to create something new, you eager to create in general, then it's impossible to just go with the flow.

Work for an idea, not for money

Ekaterina Bereziy, a co-founder of ExoAtlet, the NTI ExoAtlet Bambini project manager:
Of course, I heard that some men might treat their female counterparts with disdain or disbelief. I'm lucky to have my career, I have never encountered anything like it.

After school, I entered the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University, with very few girls studying. This is where I gained experience in interacting with a male team and fundamental thinking skills. Having subsequently found myself in a technology company, I was quite ready to work in this area. I even never explicitly thought about such issues as gender equality.

Perhaps, one critical remark should be made at this point. Technology companies have a rather specific team that lives more in the future than in the present.

We are all inspired by what we do. We are throwing all our efforts to implement the concept as soon as possible. That is what unites us.

So that my thought does not seem too pathetic, I can even say that many of us receive salaries below market. These are the rules of the game: most of the investor's money goes to the development and promotion of products. Nevertheless, few people go to similar positions for higher salaries in extensive holdings. And there is no difference in the motivation of women and men here.

The main development of our start-up is the ExoAtlet exoskeleton, which helps patients with musculoskeletal disorders undergo rehabilitation. It serves to make up for the lost functions of movement, increasing the strength of the patient’s muscles and expanding the amplitude of his movements due to the external frame and leading parts.

The functionality of the exoskeleton is quite comprehensive, it costs about four million roubles, which is half the price of foreign analogues. Our exoskeletons are used in 50 Russian clinics, as well as in South Korea, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, China, and Europe. We have already achieved a lot, and there are big plans ahead.

Work is, of course, not my whole life. In addition to a severe interest in technology, I have three children who amuse me as they can, effectively switch my mind and allow me to look at the world in a completely different way.

And, of course, I love the classic girlish joys, entirely far from the exact sciences — art, sports, literature, and, of course, fashion. After all, I am a woman.

Setting an Example

Ksenia Shashkina, team lead of the unmanned vehicle development team, a finalist of the Winter City Up Great technology competition:
There are very few women in our sphere. In the final of the Winter City unmanned vehicle contest, which took place in Moscow suburbs in December, I was the only female participant. The drone of our NSTU team showed good results. This was a shared victory for the whole team.

In our work, there is no division into male or female tasks. Although some specifics, of course, exist. We work with cars, and some tasks are physically challenging to perform.

If a man is half-confident in his idea, he is ready to voice it boldly. And he is ready to defend it if he is satisfied in it at least 70% percent.

Women, in my view, are usually reinsured when on the men's team; they put forward some idea only when they are almost 100% sure of it. I am no exception in this regard. I prefer to double-check everything first.

In my team, I have never heard any hints of sexism in my address, only some rare but very kind jokes. However, from people outside the realm, I hear such whispers quite often. Especially when I tell new acquaintances that I am in the development of uncrewed vehicles, this is surprising to me but does not interfere with working and being confident in my competencies.

If there are real difficulties, then they are not in the opinion of others.

I have two children whom I raise myself. I always have to plan time, actions, and any load to do everything because both the family and such work require complete dedication.

I admit, sometimes there are thoughts that I could be a more caring mother. But I thought a lot about this and realized that one of the main priorities in raising children for me was the desire to be an example for them, to teach them how to be a hard worker, responsible and well organized. When I realized this, it became easier for me both at home and work.



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