Our strong women in a ‘male-dominated’ sector

05 March 2020

DNS Belgium is convinced more diversity in a team has a positive impact on both our organisations, our people, and our services. This is one of the reasons we purposefully try to work on a healthy ratio between the number of male and female employees. But in our sector this is not simple. 

Male-dominated sector? 

Every sector, every job that tends towards technology, IT and engineering is seen as distinctly masculine. ‘We purposefully look for more women, because we notice ourselves that a mixed team of men and women simply works better than a team of only men or only women’, says Ruth Venmans, our test engineer. But not so long ago we had two vacancies at DNS Belgium and not a single female applicant turned up.  

 ‘It is true that IT is considered a male-dominated sector’, says Loesje Hermans, one of our product specialists. ‘But we don't consider our jobs to be distinctly masculine. It's just odd there are so many men’, she laughs. ‘I think DNS Belgium is very atypical with three women in an engineering team of about sixteen people. That really is a lot in this sector.’ 

Veerle Ternier, product specialist: ‘When I graduated in IT there were 5 women on a total of 67 students. You already know this will be the ratio when you go to work in a company. But I never saw this as a problem. This is what I do, I enjoy doing and do well.’ 

Wrong perception of IT 

The three women acknowledge there are indeed disciplines that tend to attract more boys, while others appeal mainly to girls. ‘It appears that everything concerning computers appeals to boys more. But I don't know why that is’, says Loesje. Ruth believes youngsters have a wrong perception of what IT is and that is not good for the diversity in the sector. ‘You can already see it in puberty: boys play more computer games than girls and are probably more inclined to study something involving computers.'   

The fact that people's perception of IT is wrong has nothing to do with education they believe. None of the three ever felt they had to convince their surroundings, teachers, etc. to do what they wanted to do. ‘In fact, it felt the teachers at our school gave extra attention to the girls because we were so few’, says Loesje. ‘They came to us more often to ask if we could do it and whether we understood everything in order to help us as much as possible, if necessary. There were quite a few girls, but more than half stopped their studies. Of the four girls in my class I was the only one to graduate. And I think that is because they have a wrong perception of what IT is.’  

Aptitude is individual 

And the cliché that future IT people and engineers are already sitting behind their computers programming when they're knee high is not true. ‘I think it is more of an individual thing as to whether you have an aptitude for languages or for sciences, for instance, and it has nothing to do with gender’, says Ruth. ‘All three of us must have that analytical and mathematical side.’ But none of the three women were interested in technique or computers as a child. 

Loesje initially started studying laboratory technology. ‘But when I saw the guys at my digs do all these fun things on their computers, I knew: I want to be able to do that too.’ ‘I only bought my first PC at my second year of university’, says Veerle. ‘In other words, initially I was studying IT without a computer. That was not a problem, because we used the university's computers. But in those days computers were still on a mainframe, PCs were not at all a thing yet.’ 

Ruth's passion for IT came even later. ‘I trained as an industrial biochemistry engineer, but I always worked as a test engineer. I make sure the applications that the developers make do what they are supposed to do. That's how I ended up in IT. The passion for IT grew on the job.’ 

Regardless of how Ruth, Veerle or Loesje ended up in IT, they are very happy with their study choices and jobs. They recommend IT to everyone with an interest in it. ‘It is also very broad, you roll into IT but you can take so many directions. Within IT you still have many possibilities. And when you enjoy your job, it doesn't matter anymore that you work in a predominantly male environment’, concludes Loesje.

With this article, we support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.