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Microsoft’s Karrie Ilagan calls young women to join IT work force

Microsoft’s Karrie Ilagan calls young women to join IT work force
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Technology has long been viewed as a male-dominated industry, but this generation has seen major progress in addressing the gender disparity in the field. Take Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, YouTube, and Microsoft Philippines—these are some of the world’s most recognizable technology companies and they all have women right at the helm.

However, the challenge doesn’t rest at that and young millennials should continue to widen their perspective of the IT industry. Microsoft is at the forefront of this campaign with their annual Tech Femme forum, an event held throughout Asia Pacific, which brings together students and female IT leaders for a discussion with Microsoft on considering a career path in technology.

Held at the University of the Philippines in Diliman with the theme #SheCanDoIt, Tech Femme 2015 Philippines addressed female undergraduate and postgraduate students to change their views of the tech industry to break stereotypes and inject more diversity in this field.

Microsoft Philippines General Manager Karrie Ilagan opened the highly anticipated Tech Femme forum with an inspiring keynote speech. Ilagan is one of the women who broke the glass ceiling for being the first Filipina general manager of Microsoft Philippines.

“I manage the local subsidiary of one of the biggest technology companies in the world. Yes, I am a woman who’s proud to be an IT professional,” Ilagan said as she introduced herself, setting the tone for the powerful message she wanted to send across the audience.

With impressive credentials under her belt, Ilagan could have easily chosen another industry but was drawn the most to what technology makes possible for people, organizations, and communities. “I could’ve always worked towards the same position of General Manager at some other technology company but I chose to work for Microsoft because of the impact of its creativity, tools, programs that empower Filipinos, including women and students to excel—and be movers where it matters to you most,” she shared.

Computer engineer, system administrator, Web developer are the professions that come to mind when people learn that Ilagan is an IT professional. But while these are indeed job titles in the field, Ilagan sees these IT professionals more as problem solvers.

Based on diversity reports published by 11 of the world’s largest tech companies last year, on the average, women make up only 30 percent of professionals working in the technology sector. In addition to that, only 20 percent of the chief information officer jobs (CIOs) at Fortune 250 companies were held by a woman. While technology solves the world’s most complex challenges and continues to grow and attract millions of talent around the world, the stigma that the IT industry is a man’s world is one problem that the industry has yet to address.

During her speech, Ilagan cited the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, which explained that the gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies.

“This means that because many of us females grow up seeing that most IT jobs are held by men, we are predisposed to believe that IT jobs are for men,” she added.

“We need you to change all that—to address this challenge,” Ilagan stressed to the college and MBA students present during her keynote speech. “The IT industry needs more of you. We need your perspective, your ideas, and your creativity.”

Ilagan then listed women who have been the driving force and source of innovation in tech: a team of women in Argentina who are using big data tools of Forensic Anthropology to solve trafficking of women; a group of Kenyan women who founded a non-profit software company and built a program to help citizens, journalists, organizations and governments gather, manage, and visualize crowdsourced data; and a woman in Nepal who developed a connected laptop to give children access to education, technology, and internet.

Giving an example closer to home, she mentioned Filipina Myrna Padilla, a former domestic helper who created a mobile phone application that connects OFWs to help fellow migrant workers who might be distressed.

“These solutions were developed because women are collaborative and instinctive about helping and protecting others,” Ilagan said.

Ilagan ended her talk with a question, a challenge to young female millennials: “Can you imagine how many more problems we would be able to solve if we integrate more women and girls in the IT Industry? We need you because we believe that you can develop meaningful products and services that will benefit our communities and societies.”

Globally, Microsoft has sparked early interest in technology among females by promoting the study of computer science in traditionally female schools and through programs like Girls Who Code. As one of the founding partners, Microsoft hosted over 1,000 girls in their Redmond office for a seven-week computer science education program.

Participants also learned from industry leaders from Microsoft, mobile retail marketing company ZAP, and local IT company VFTS-Technologies about the countless opportunities available in the field of technology and why women need to play a more significant role in the industry.


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