Intive-FDV Blog

“Women can’t code”

The first computer to be assembled in an Argentinian university, called Clementina, was operational on May 15th, 1961 at the School of Exact and Natural Sciences, University of Buenos Aires (UBA). It was a Mercury computer, built by Ferranti. In order to know how to operate Clementina, Cicely Popplewell, from the University of Manchester, was asked to give a training course in Autocode programming. That was the beginning of computer science in our country.

How come then, Rosita Wachenchauzer came across the following statement in a recent article, we wonder? “Women can edit, write and interview, but they can’t program.”

Wachenchauzer is a member of the panel “Women in Systems” of the School of Engineering, UBA, that focuses on gender discrimination issues and shares past experiences, current situations and projections for the future. After the 8th edition of the event, she and other brilliant professionals came to our offices to share their life stories.

About our Interviewees

Rosita Wachenchauzer has a degree in Maths by the School of Exact and Natural Sciences, UBA. She’s Professor and Academic Secretary for Planning and Research at the School of Engineering, UBA, Professor at the University of 3 de Febrero, and former President of the Argentinian Society of Computer Sciences. Silvia Ramos has a degree in Systems Analysis by UBA and is Research Professor of Quantitative Methods at the School of Engineering, UBA. Lucía Navarro works at the Secretary of Inclusion, Gender, Wellbeing and Social Articulation of the School of Engineering, UBA, where she is also in charge of coordination.

“In the past, nobody really wanted to be a programmer, it was comparable to being a nurse or someone who worked at the computer center. Back then, it was considered a minor job because nobody wanted to do that,” says Silvia.

“When programmers began to go up the salary scale, women started to disappear from this field. Why is it that there are few women working in this industry and a lot in teaching? Because in teaching, wages are pretty low for everyone. I have the unconfirmed theory that there’s an economic reason behind it: low-paid jobs are for women and the well-paid are for men,” claims Rosita.

What was it like to be a woman in this industry back in the 70s? Rosita recalls how she graduated in Maths in 1973 and how she continued to study computing on her own. She once attended a computing course for university students organized by ACT (Spanish acronym for Consultants, Scientists and Technicians), and since she was the only one to complete it, she was immediately offered a job there. Years later, she was denied a promotion simply because she was a woman (and she had a husband and kids to care for, that sort of things), which led her to resign from her job.

“In my case, I had to put up with other things, but they had more to do with politics than with gender discrimination. Today I think that in the public sector, women are less discriminated against. At least in what’s formally visible in some schools,” says Lucía. “Nobody will tell you that you don’t need tenure because your husband provides.”

Silvia graduated in 1984 and believes that today, “the dynamics of the public sector are different, and there’s social and legal protection seldom found elsewhere. Politics or favoritism are the usual causes for discrimination. However, there aren’t many opportunities, if you want to move up you have to compete for tenure and collaborate with people who are willing to let you work, something I was lucky enough to experience.”

Social and University Policies

There are many renowned women who prove that the idea that women can’t program is absolutely wrong. Let us mention just a few:

Despite that, today women make up about 10% of Wachenchauzer’s and Ramos’s students. Euge Laguna, our Marketing Manager, asks their opinion on what universities and society in general should do. For Rosita, it’s essential to establish an equal leave both for mothers and fathers.

Lucía explains: “There are progressive policies but the cultural transformation is hard to achieve. At home, the burden of housework continues to fall on women. At the Argentina Scientific and Technical Research Council, the difference in numbers of men and women researchers is evident. Men on paternity leave keep progressing at the same rate during that period, while mothers fall behind because they have to care for their children.”

“The night of the long sticks” (July 29th, 1966, when students and teachers were violently chased out from five UBA schools by the police) not only resulted in researchers and professionals fleeing the country, but also in the complete dismantling of Clementina, which then served as “support for coffee trays” (according to Ana Diamant). As women working in systems, we must keep on sharing our stories and fighting, so we don’t get pushed into the background like Clementina.

Paula Becchetti

Paula is the editor of intive – FDV’s blog. She holds a degree in Audiovisual Communication from Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) and is a Content Manager specialized in blogs, web content, email marketing and social media. Her extensive experience in the software industry makes her very valuable when it comes to translate technical content into a colloquial language. According to her own words: “I connect with the world through technology, but also through everything that breathes, sport, music and my travels.”

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