Last updateFri, 16 Aug 2019 11am

Social enterprise trains women to flourish as techies in Latin America

“Talento que transforma” (talent that transforms) – the opening mantra of Laboratoria’s website – reinforces how this international non-profit helps thousands of talented Latin American women land careers in the evolving tech industry.

pg7Many women today may experience barriers within the technology sector, whether it be workplace discrimination or wage disparities. Dedicated to eradicating those obstacles, Laboratoria empowers aspiring female techies by offering a six-month “boot camp” where participants learn JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS3 programs, workplace English, and even social skills.

“I did things I didn’t believe I was capable of doing,” said Ámbar de Alejandría Valle de la Cruz, a graduate from the Guadalajara program. “It wasn’t easy, especially with all the technical terms needed to understand the concepts.”

Since graduating from Guadalajara’s first graduating class in September 2018, Alejandría has worked as a junior front-end developer at a local hospitality company called “Getabed Suite.” The company develops software for online hotel reservations. In a team of four, the 25-year-old has been monitoring and improving the interface of company websites for nearly four months.

“I like it a lot because I can continue my graphic design career while still developing,” said Alejandría, who worked as a freelance graphic designer prior to joining Laboratoria but lacked the technical skills to take her career to the next level.

“We train them and set up their relationship with a company,” said Ana Paula Barragán, Guadalajara’s job placement manager. “We have learned that the training program is very effective. They learn how to learn in an industry that is changing so fast, and that makes a big difference. That’s why companies are looking to hire them.”

Laboratoria originated in Lima, Peru and has since expanded to Santiago, Chile, São Paulo, Mexico City and Guadalajara. More than 1,000 females have graduated from the organization’s course since its opening in 2015.

Each participant at Laboratoria comes from a different background. Some arrive as former chefs, lawyers or young mothers who never had the opportunity to develop professionally. Above all else, numerous enrollees say they lacked the confidence to ever pursue their dreams or never had the proper family support.

“After listening to various colleagues talk about their experiences, I realized that the family also has a lot of influence,” said Alejandría. “There have been female coworkers whose parents tell them that tech jobs are for men not women and that they won’t ever get it. What I heard the most from so many of us, though, was lack of self-confidence.”

Despite the hurdles, 90 percent of graduates have been recruited following program completion at every Laboratoria location. Certain candidates in Mexico have gone on to earn monthly salaries of 17,000 pesos after working for just six months.

Enrollment is free but a small percentage of the wage goes back to Laboratoria once a member secures employment. Anybody over 18 years old and identifies as a female can participate, regardless of previous education or work experience.

“Some of the women we work with may not have had the opportunity to study or may not have had the opportunity to work in an industry that is growing so much like the tech industry,” said Barragán. “We help them start a new career and change their lives in a very meaningful way.”

While some companies progress more than others, female professionals are still under-represented in the tech field. Firms like Google have been mired in controversy following a 2017 workplace survey in which around 40 percent of female respondents reported having to deal with gender bias.

Just as damaging, 35 percent confessed they were earning unequal pay (despite having the same skills as their male counterparts) and 42 percent considered the lack of female role models presented a barrier to success.

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