If there’s anyone standing on the barricade for women in tech, it’s Sandra Wasseur. When she is not involved in marketing within Northern, Eastern and Western Europe for more than 40 countries at software company Oracle, she leads the Oracle Women Leadership Team (OWL) for the Netherlands. She also helps organize Girls’ Day: the annual event where young girls visit the company to see that professions in science, mathematics, technology or engineering are great fun.
Sandra’s interview was conducted around Women’s Day: a busy period for her, because with her role within the Oracle Women Leadership Team (of which there are 113 communities around the world), there is a lot to do around this day. “I’ve been with Oracle for 17 years and I’ve been with OWL for about 6 years now. I do that because I care a lot about the subject. I am a feminist. Nobody says it anymore, it is even seen as negative, but I believe that women’s emancipation is not complete and I try to help women. For example, by teaching them the rules of the game and helping them to develop.”
That doesn’t come completely out of the blue with Sandra. “I read Opzij from the age of 17. Men have helped me a lot in my career, but at the same time, when you are still young and modest, you also experience less pleasant moments as a woman. I’m glad that atmosphere has now changed and everyone understands that this is a problem. I’m still of the generation: ‘Oh, that’s part of it’, but I’m very glad that young women don’t have to put up with that anymore. Yet in reality it still happens.”
Sandra fights for a fair distribution between men and women. “I would like to see women working at the same level as men, but the reality is that we are far from that. Especially in certain industries. I try to make a contribution with OWL, for example to get more women on board. We work together with Women in Tech, we ensure that women speak at events, that they are helped in how they can improve. In addition, we actively provide men at Oracle with information to show how they can contribute to equality in the workplace. It is important that they know that they can make an active contribution and what the importance of behavior is in this.”
Fortunately, this topic is becoming increasingly visible: An example: “With 10 requirements in a vacancy, women think that it is better not to apply if they do not meet one or two of them. In such a case, men think: oh I can do that, just write a letter.” Sandra wants to show men that other words can be used and show them how they really compare neutrally in a job interview. Women position themselves much more carefully and often more modestly: men should be aware of this. Everyone has unconscious biases, it’s a natural thing for your brain to do. A short connection in the brain makes everyday life easier.” It’s just not convenient that it creates prejudices.
OWL would like to achieve a culture change and it does this, among other things, by making people aware of what women suffer from in everyday life and how they react. “Research also shows that men are judged by their potential, women by what they have done. When a woman becomes a mother, colleagues expect her to focus on the family: when it comes to men, people don’t think about that.” So there is still a lot to gain. Sandra contributes to this by giving a presentation to all new employees. But at the same time there is also another goal: to ensure that there will soon be a good group of women to choose from when jobs become available. And you have to actively invest in that early on.
“If you want more women in technical professions, because there is a shortage of them, then you have to get started early on. We have 30 percent women at Oracle, well above the IT industry average, but women make up half of society. Children choose a direction very early and many boys go for STEM courses. These are programs within the domains of ‘Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics’. We would like to influence girls to opt for a STEM education more often. That way, more girls are moving on to those fields.” The final goal? Creating a better male/female ratio in technical workplaces.
Sandra therefore thinks Girls’ Day is a fantastic initiative. After a few corona editions, girls can finally take a look at the real workplace again and be inspired there. Sandra: “Our Girls’ Day is at two locations: in our offices in Utrecht and Amsterdam. We will then discuss what ‘technical’ means and what career choices there are. Girls between 10 and 15 years old come along. We especially want to tell them that they are better and can do more than they think. She was once asked who was good at math. Two girls raised their hands. Then we asked: who is good enough for math? All girls, it turned out. Things are quite different with boys. It would be quicker to think: I am good enough, so I am good at math.”
Girls’ Day is there to show girls that they can do much more than they think and how much fun the professions are. “We show that there are nice women who can and do this. We do this, among other things, by having a playful approach to building dashboards, but also by creating an escape room and a programming section, for example. By showing that it is fun and that the girls can do things themselves, we hope that they will choose that STEM direction. We therefore like to show them the office, that dynamic of how nice it is in IT.”
Another way to help young people is the Oracle Academy. This training arm of Oracle works closely with educational institutions to provide students with free access to certain IT courses and IT resources. Consider working with:
- project management;
- database (design);
- and deploying Oracle’s Cloud Infrastructure.
Oracle’s workshops are particularly interesting for secondary education. Students can learn how to program with Alice, Greenfoot and the Finch Robot. In the STEM Science workshop, they learn about Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Super nice initiatives, and not even necessarily to bind all pupils and students to Oracle. “It is in any case to make a social contribution, to help others on their way. And of course I would love it if one of those girls ended up working at Oracle.” Who knows what will come of it!
Girls’ Day will take place on March 30 this year. Oracle also takes a group of students to the coolest innovations within their company. Are you also curious what that looks like? – You check the live coverage of it on @techgirlnl (Instagram and TikTok) See you there!