Andras Levites uzruna “Riga TechGirls” tiešsaistes konferences “Digitālā ekonomika un IT prasmes – izeja no Covid-19 krīzes” atklāšanā

Dear participants, good morning!

Dear trendsetters, good morning!

Thank you for inviting me back to one of your conferences as opening speaker. It is a great honour be back.

On a Latvian scale, you are true trailblazers, and I am happy and grateful to have been given an opportunity to join you for some parts of your great journey.


Crisis: the current reality

There is an ancient tradition in China: if you wanted fate to put someone who has become reckless at times of peace and tranquillity to a real test or punish them, all you had to do was to wish or rather curse them to live in ‘interesting’ times. I think the time we are living in is indeed interesting. Because of all restrictions coming from Covid-19 pandemic. We need to physically distance ourselves from others, wear face masks, work remotely, learn from home, and every morning there is more news about new cases, recoveries and deaths.

When crisis is over, some will emerge as winners, but there will be many, many losers as well:

- women in healthcare and social care whose physical and psychological resilience was pushed to the limits during the pandemic

- women in service industry whose jobs, for example, at restaurants, hair salons, swimming pools, simply vanished

- women in education and culture whose public events were cancelled.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but the examples that I mentioned have something in common: these are mostly jobs done by women who are paid less than industry average and have little or no opportunity to do the job remotely, as some suggest we all will in future at times of ‘peace’.

As a result of that, women compared to men (8% against 5%) are more likely to be the first in line to lose their job when crisis comes, losing their income and financial independence. In addition to financial problems, women suffer from greater psychological stress resulting from having to take care of children during the Covid-19 pandemic (72% against 53%). Women are definitely hit harder by the crisis.

Crisis has far-reaching economic and social consequences. But more importantly, in addition to fear for one’s physical and financial wellbeing, pandemic has also sparked spike in domestic violence against women and girls. At home, where we should feel safe and protected, women are now exposed to physical and emotional pain, as well as mobbing. 

Bruises, ripped-out hair, humiliation and shame are not manifestations of love or a way to show woman’s place. These are punishable offences.

As to the magnitude of the problem, Violence against women and girls: the shadow pandemic, a UN Women report published on 6 April 2020, and the speech by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, paints a rather grim picture about the situation in the world.

As is the case with any crisis, we must learn the right lessons and make the right actions in the aftermath.

For women and girls, a good education can become a life insurance. They must choose professions that are better paid. Professions that will guarantee employment in future, which is crucial in today’s context.

As many panels of today’s conference will show the young girls, STEM subjects and IT industry are some of the best choices.

By promoting the IT industry, you are also protecting women and girls from domestic violence.


Professional network: a future challenge

White´s in London, freemasons around the world, Brotherhood of Blackheads in ancient Livonia. They all combine centuries-old traditions, close ties between generations, different professions and members’ residences. But more importantly, they are all run by men.

Only lately some of the gentlemen’s clubs started to admit women or created separate clubs for women. 

Boardrooms of the biggest companies in the world and Latvia (68.3%) are still male dominated. At the same time, Latvia is doing fine in terms of gender equality on a global scale. 

Surveys show that bosses of various size companies pick their successors from their own kind. They consciously, or sub-consciously, pick someone with similar family status and education, and similar values. And, last but not least, they pick someone their own gender. Gentlemen’s clubs have long history, paintings of members’ great-grandfathers on the walls, air filled with funny stories about odd long-gone members, but they are also a great place for young members who want to join professional networks.

Women’s networks, founded only recently, unfortunately, have not developed such traditions yet.

They often need older and more experienced female leader who has developed a wide network of professional contacts, crucial for advancing in the field, amassed over life-long career in the profession.

Without such leaders, women’s networks rarely become anything more than self-help groups. 

Surveys show that women working for professional networks often feel ashamed to ask their more experienced colleagues for help. Whereas, men’s professional networks have rid themselves of such shame.

Sometimes you also hear these familiar excuses that women use. Excuses like ‘it was difficult for me to get that position’, ‘nobody helped me, so why should I make it easier for others?’, but that does not help professional equality between men and women at all.

Solidarity between women is absolutely essential.


Past baggage: Impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome or doubting of your own accomplishments is characteristic to people who are very critical towards themselves and often demand the impossible from themselves. Syndrome has been well-researched and described by psychologists. Such people often feel they are underqualified for the position and have been promoted only by luck, not because of their professional skills.

They often doubt their accomplishments and consider talking about them bragging.

Unfortunately, this syndrome is more common in women, often women who are in high positions that come with a lot of professional accountability, including scientists and well-educated minority groups. In other words, intelligent and educated people. Only fools never doubt themselves.  

Luckily, this syndrome cannot be passed down genetically, it come from upbringing. Once you realise that, you can beat the syndrome.

Raising children is an enormous responsibility. You need to give your child assurance while also trying not to idolise them and boast about them too much.

If we as a society really want more girls on all levels of STEM and IT industry, we should not ignore what studies conducted by NYU School of Culture, Education and Human Development suggest. Pupils of both sexes with better science grades have no problem choosing their path. Whereas, girls with good or average grades will doubt their abilities and more often decide not to go into STEM education, while boys with same average grades would enrol in STEM programmes without any doubt or reservations. That is why we need to encourage girls more. Give them the sense of security and confidence in own strength.

I wish you lots of energy and to enjoy this journey. It is not going to be a walk in the park, it is going to be a long road.

Thank you!