It’s Time to Mainstream Diversity in Tech Companies. Interview with Mariana Zalazar, Marketing Manager at intive

Innovation does not appear out of thin air. It is driven by people – often by diverse teams of people. We’ve talked with Mariana Zalazar, intive’s Marketing Manager, about the importance of holding diverse viewpoints, different ways to advocate for inclusion, and a wide range of inspiring D&I initiatives in the tech sector.

Let’s start with a general, yet fundamental question: why is it important that organizations open up to differences and take steps to mainstream diversity?

Diversity is key to life. All breathing systems survive and thrive thanks to the gift of difference. If all things are similar, there’s no room for movement, connection and change, the landscape stays monochrome and still. This thought can be translated to human societies and any social organization, such as a company. If there’s no room for diversity of feelings, perspectives and ways of doing, there’s no room for creation, interchange, improvement and expansion.

How long has intive been involved in supporting gender equality and inclusion initiatives in Argentina?

We have always cared for diversity in a very organic way since the Argentinean beginnings of the company in 2006. To name a powerful example, some of the founders of the company were involved in the creation of the Nahual Project, an initiative to teach QA in disadvantaged neighbourhoods for labor inclusion.

Diversity can only be truly fostered in an environment of economic equality. This is something that stands very clearly in all feminists' debates around intersectionality: It’s not only a matter of gender identity, but it’s also about fighting the inequalities reinforced by colonialism and capitalism, they are all interrelated.

When the company started to grow in consciousness and resources, we immediately recognized our enormous responsibility as a business to become a part of something bigger; we started to connect with and support NGOs and organizations that knew much more about fostering diversity, and how to close the gender gap in tech. As we say in Spanish, “en la unión está la fuerza" (In unity lies strength).

Which non-profit organizations fighting to close the gender gap in tech have you been working with?

There’s a very inspiring network of non-profit organizations in Argentina committed to closing the gender gap in the tech industry. In recent years, we have forged key collaborations with Media Chicas, [Las]DeSistemas, Club de Chicas Programadoras (Girls Who Code Club), Wikimedia, among other great projects that we admire. With the Club de Chicas Programadoras, women intivers participated as mentors, sharing their knowledge with girls between 13 and 17 years old who wanted to get closer to the IT world. With Media Chicas we are sponsoring their new Full Stack program that grants women to learn Frontend and Backend development.

[Las] deSistemas is an organization focused on making visible, empowering and training the transfeminist community in the IT industry. This year, we are platinum sponsors of FemIT, their annual gender-sensitive technology conference event. We have also joined the BA Convive program of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires by participating in workshops for reflection and debate on diversity to promote respectful exchanges in spaces of organizational coexistence.

We already have our certification in Sexual Diversity, reaffirming our commitment to building a more inclusive city where our offices are based. This is a snapshot of some of the initiatives from non-profit organizations we are proud to collaborate with.

What inspires you to advocate for social change and equality?

People. As simple as that. My family, my friends, my colleagues. Two persons hugging in the street as I pass by. All these small personal stories which, when combined, create History. As with any cause, where there is real commitment, every day when efforts are made with the goal of someone’s well-being in mind, is an achievement.

Nothing is too small when it comes to changing something so entrenched in our ways of thinking, seeing the world and inhabiting it. I'm convinced that the fight to reduce inequalities is something we can all contribute to in our daily lives, because the macro and micro spheres depend on each other. In this sense, stepping up when something unfair is going on in your workspace inspires me as much as a massive demonstration. To me, they are one and the same, a quest for humanity.

How do you think the Argentinean society has progressed in relation to equality & inclusion in the last years?

The last years have been extremely exciting, tough and inspiring, in Argentina and worldwide. The third wave of feminism is a fact (also called “the forth wave” in non-academic contexts), and I’m proud that Argentinean feminist movements had fought the good fight so fiercely that they succeeded in winning the long-overdue right to legal abortion –the bill was finally passed by the Senate on December 30th, 2020.

Since 2015, when the “Ni Una Menos” (Not One Less) national movement exploded with massive demonstrations in the streets to protest against systematic waves of femicides in the country, we have witnessed the most amazing collective alliance to change things for good, not only in Argentina, but in a lot of other countries around the world. This is especially important in an age rife with neoconservative and neoliberal governments practising fascist politics.

This social awakening has also had its impact on the media, and for the first time, feminism and LGBTIQ+ rights were hot topics on prime-time TV programs , social media, etc. Without illusions as to the risk of corporations and economic powers capitalizing on the trendy subject – the media being one of them - this massive presence of the topic worldwide is something that has allowed and expanded the possibility of debate, reflection and collective support. There’s still a long way to go, but the recent years have ignited a flame we must keep on feeding.

What are some of the challenges you face in advocating for more diversity & inclusion in IT?

The gender gap is an issue that goes beyond our industry, it’s a functional part of the patriarchal and unequal societies we live in. Therefore, there are many problems to overcome that are common to all industries and spaces of social interaction: the glass ceiling, the impostor syndrome, prejudices and ignorance, the lack of awareness about one's privileges (and the resistance to leave them behind), gender biases, etc. In the IT industry, there is a clear disproportion between the presence of men and women, where the latter are still a minority, and the origin of this inequality can be traced back to the first years of someone’s education.

Gender stereotypes ingrained in our societies still continue to deny women their participation in the fields of science, technology - spaces historically associated with masculinity. The invisibility of women programmers in the mainstream narrative undermines every little girl’s dream of a future in this field, her wings get clipped at the very onset (and imagination is the seed of action), and as a result she never sees herself as capable of embracing that role. This creates a harmful cycle, which then leads to a shortage of professional women in the sector.

The challenge is to break that cycle, to shout out loud the stories of amazing women who excelled in the IT sector, to work on programs to open the door to women in all educational stages and inside companies, and let them know (not only by words) that they can do it.

We started with an open question, so let’s finish our conversation with a similar one: If there was one change that you would like to see for a more inclusive society, what would that change be?

The biggest change I dream of is based in the collectiveness of the difference. For people to truly think, feel and live less in terms of “me” and more in terms of ”we”, a “we” full of different opinions and ways of living, not the “we” that’s comfortably constructed by the reassurance of the self ( constantly inflated by, for example, social media algorithms). I’ve witnessed the most amazing things achieved by people who have learnt how to tame their egos, stopped playing the game of competition and self-centredness, and started to see complementary potential where others see dispute. That’s a dream worth fighting for. That’s a change that requires courage and humility to come true.

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