By Barbara Flores
Quality Assurance Engineer
Systers is a close-knit, diverse, and global community for women involved in the technical aspects of computing. Founded in 1987 by Anita Borg together with 12 other women as a small electronic mailing list for women in “systems,” it now comprises more than 6,000 women technologists from more than 60 countries. In honor of Systers’ 30th anniversary, we’re sharing the stories of 30 members who represent the community’s breadth and depth.
Pursuing a career in the male-dominated field of computer science was not an easy path for me. As a minority in both my computer science courses as well as the workplace, I struggled with feelings of insecurity. When I discovered that, like many women in tech, I was earning less than my male co-workers, I was greatly upset. I knew this pay gap was wrong and I wanted to do something about it, but I wasn’t sure how to approach the problem.
In 2010, I decided I would write my thesis on women in information technology (IT), a subject not many people discuss here in Brazil. While researching this topic, I discovered the Anita Borg Institute and, subsequently, Systers. I decided to join the online community, not entirely sure what to expect. I quickly fell in love with it.
I was amazed by just how much information the members of Systers share with one another. These women discuss a wide range of issues, including the wage gap in the tech industry, and share studies and articles along with their own personal experiences and struggles. They also offer each other support, and share advice on how to overcome these problems.
The support network of Systers greatly empowered me, and I wanted to share the knowledge I had acquired with my colleagues. After finishing my thesis, I led a few lectures on women in IT at my university and at work. I was motivated to educate and enlighten my peers on a topic that many people prefer to ignore, and I was pleased to see that they actually listened to what I had to say.
I built a support network with my co-workers and classmates so we could similarly empower one another, and I encouraged them to join Systers. One of my friends, who suffers from imposter syndrome, really benefitted from hearing from other Systers who also feel inadequate, as well as from women who offered her support and encouragement.
I likewise gained confidence from being a part of Systers, and was able to move forward in my career as a result. I began to realize my own worth and started asking for what I deserved, including equal pay. Systers impacted me in such a positive way, and now I feel it is my responsibility to pay it forward and help others in their own career paths.
To encourage more women to join the tech field, I organized an international Systers meetup at the 2012 Geek Girl Dinner in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where we celebrated Anita Borg’s birthday. Since then, we have held other dinners, happy hours, lightning talks, and meetups here in Brazil. It’s wonderful seeing our community growing so quickly!
I also continue to be actively involved with Systers online. I continue to read and learn from the posts that members share, but I also make sure to share my own experiences and advice as well.
Although pursuing a career in computer science may not be easy, having the supporting of others can make the path less intimidating. I hope more women take advantage of the Systers community. When people are part of a community, they can help each other find inner strength and move forward.