Egils Levits
Valsts prezidenta dzīvesbiedres Andras Levites uzruna Riga TechGirls rīkotajā IT vēstnešu un mentoru programmas “TechMentors” atklāšanā

Thank you very much for inviting me and good afternoon to everyone online and in the room.

A very warm greeting to all of you, my dear modern-day pioneers.

Berta Pīpiņa (1882–1942) and Zigfrīds Meierovics (1887–1925), Amelia Earhart (1897–1937) and Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974), Katherine Johnson (1918–2020) and Wernher von Braun (1912–1977), Marija Šimanska (1922–1995) and Wilhelm Ostwald (1853–1932), Deborah (1107BC–1067BC) and  Solomon (–931BC). Everyone in these comparisons works in the same field – politics, aviation, space technologies, chemistry or law. The only difference is that most of us know these men, but names of these women can mostly be found in scientific publications and books.

In 2015, the American novelist Janice Kaplan wrote about a scientific experiment during which people were asked to name a person whom they consider a genius. Answers included Galileo Galilei, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein. Only men. After thinking long and hard, some also mentioned two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie. Moreover, one in seven men even claimed to be geniuses themselves. Not a single woman made a similar claim.

Researchers at Princeton University, New York University and the University of Illinois have demonstrated that if you show pre-schoolers photos of men and women and ask them to identify the really, really smart ones, children will mostly pick a person of their own gender. However, as children reach the age of six and start school, they are more likely to pick men. That is how social stereotypes influence us.

Our perception of reality is shaped by numerous individual factors, for example, upbringing, education, gender. But there are also global factors like different ages, philosophies, government systems and nowadays also the growing influence of advertising and social media influencers who deliberately build their own reality for us.

Good education and independent thinking are the best tools for protecting yourself against such ‘trickery’.

If you would ask children to draw an IT expert today, they would draw a man. However, by pursuing a career in ICT, you are showing everyone that these stereotypes are not true.

Only 1% of all women in Latvia choose to work in ICT. Other European Union countries show higher rates. But we should not forget that when women decided to become doctors and teachers their number compared to others working in the same profession was also low.

There is a huge potential for growth.

You need a mentor to start a new journey into unknown territory. Someone who can inspire you. The women I mentioned in the beginning served as these role models hundred years ago. Now it is up to you to inspire young ladies today to follow you.

I will be very happy for you if you will inspire young girls and ladies in schools and universities to choose ICT. Technological sector offers good career and a well-paid job. Often you will also be offered flexible working conditions and terms. Flexibility is very important for a career woman who wants family.

Ground-breaking discoveries usually open new breath-taking horizons and we often forget about the dark side of these inventions.

Marie Curie worked with radioactive chemicals and died from a radiation-induced disease. Nuclear fission gave us electricity and also led to Hiroshima. Global digital transformation connects university researchers on the opposite sides of the world, but it also weakens ordinary people.

I hope you will succeed in passing scientific curiosity, sense of responsibility and empathy towards laymen and women to your mentees. Thank you for doing what you do!

Let me now briefly introduce to you the ladies I mentioned in the beginning. Let us bring them into the limelight and give the same credit as their male counterparts.

Berta Pīpiņa (we all know who Zigfrīds Meierovics, the first foreign minister of Latvia, is). A Latvian, language tutor for children with speech impairments, women's rights activist, politician. The first and only woman elected to 4th Saeima in 1931. Member and Vice-President of the International Council of Women. Wrote and published her own book ‘Talking to Your Child About Sex’ in 1927. Like other women who stood up for women’s rights at the time, she often got ridiculed by opponents who had run out of meaningful arguments. There was even a saying, ‘Pīpiņ Berta, wacky woman’. After Soviet occupation in 1941 deported to Siberia where she later died.

Amelia Earhart, a female equivalent of Charles Lindbergh, famous aviator and the first to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. Amelia Earhart repeated his accomplishment and flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean five years later. Disappeared in 1937 over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to fly around the world.

We all know Wernher von Braun as the founder of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), but there was also Katherine Johnson, an African-American and mathematician who worked for NASA in 1950ies and 1960ies at NASA and helped the agency to safely send the first man to the Moon and back. Hidden figures is an exciting film about three African-American women scientists, including her, who worked for NASA.

Marija Šimanska and Wilhelm Ostwald, the Latvian who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1909. His statue stands right across the street from University of Latvia. Marija Šimanska is less known. She was a Latvian chemist of Polish heritage. During the World War II, she joined Polish resistance, was arrested by German occupation force and sent to concentration camp. She was one of the first three women in Soviet Union to become a Doctor of Chemistry, wrote more than 450 scientific publications and became an honorary member of the Latvian Academy of Science.

Deborah and Solomon were peers, but we know Solomon better than Deborah. Deborah is the only female judge mentioned in the Bible.

This is only the beginning of your long journey, but I have no doubt you will reach the destination successfully! Thank you!

03.06.2020. Valsts prezidentes dzīvesbiedre Andra Levite piedalās Riga TechGirls rīkotajā IT vēstnešu un mentoru programmas “TechMentors” atklāšanā