Leader of KTU Artificial Intelligence Centre: girls should be introduced to IT from an early age

Photo illustrating the news item

Although contemporary women are urged to fight against the stereotypes defining the IT field as exclusively masculine, the number of girls choosing IT studies and pursuing careers in this field is still low. According to Agnė Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, the Head of KTU Artificial Intelligence Centre, the situation would change if the girls were introduced to technologies at an early age.

The data from the European Institute for Gender Equality reveals that only about 17 per cent of employees in Lithuania working in the information technology (IT) and technology sector are women. According to Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, only about 13.5 per cent of students studying in the IT field are girls.

“For girls to be more interested in technology studies, they should be introduced to the field at their early age – the parents and the school could point towards a certain direction”, said Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Informatics of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) in her interview to the Lithuanian National Radio (LRT).

According to her, it is likely that introducing girls to the technology sector from an early age would lead to a greater number of women in IT-related careers.

“Currently, there are only a few girls in robotics classes in schools. This means that they don’t even have a chance to get acquainted with this field. Instead, girls tend to choose stereotypically more feminine activities such as dancing, singing or drawing lessons”, said Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.

Great career prospects
Information technology and engineering studies can be rather complicated. However, according to Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, who has been working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) for a long time, IT-related careers are very interesting and offer great perspectives.

“When it comes to AI, this is a rather knowledge-intensive field. To develop various algorithms, it is necessary to have a good knowledge of mathematics, to understand the processes, to program very well, to be able to use different tools and to know their possibilities. However, working in this field is never boring”, assured Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.

When talking about a career in the IT field, the Head of KTU Artificial Intelligence Centre highlights career prospects, non-monotonous work and the opportunity to express one’s creativity. She thinks that these are the factors that can motivate girls to take interest in this field.

From an early age, girls need to be introduced to a variety of activities – not just dancing, singing or painting, to allow them to choose what they like the most.

– Dr Agnė Pauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, Head of KTU Artificial Intelligence Centre

“In addition, it is known that girls and women often perform tasks more carefully in certain situations, are more responsible, pay more attention to details. Such qualities are especially needed for the specialists working in the field of technologies”, said KTU IF Associate Professor.

According to her, the girls are doing very well in careers related to data analytics, biomedicine and biochemistry.

“Two things are often confused when assessing women’s achievements in the IT field: being a professional in a specific IT field and running an IT-type company. In the second case, it is not even necessary to have an IT education – good managerial and leadership skills are more essential. Therefore, I think that it is not quite correct to present such cases as successful examples of women in IT, although they do exist”, said Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.

Existing competencies are proved by the work done
The Head of the KTU Artificial Intelligence Centre admits that she is familiar with the stereotypical view of women being scarce in the technology sector.

Head of KTU Artificial Intelligence Centre
Dr Agnė Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, Head of KTU AI Centre
“In the past, this attitude was even more common, as I often was the only woman in the team and I had to prove my competencies. Even today, IT or AI projects rarely have women staff responsible for programming and algorithm development stages. However, it is becoming more common for women to perform data analysis and algorithm creating work, which requires knowledge of mathematics rather than IT”, said Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.

She thinks that men take women mathematicians seriously and trust their competencies as data analysts and algorithm developers.

“Sometimes I still feel a stereotypical, sceptical attitude towards me, a woman working in the technology field, but my publicly available work and research position me as a professional. Moreover, sometimes the initial attitude and certain “testing” has its charm because a better acquaintance creates trust, which determines effective further cooperation”, said Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.

It is necessary to expand knowledge and change stereotypical attitudes
The Head of the KTU Artificial Intelligence Centre does not think it is difficult for women to establish themselves in the field of technologies, as it is quite broad. Still, it is important to know your goals, abilities, to be able to prove your competencies.

“Of course, if a woman presents herself as a specialist in operating systems, networks, server maintenance and support, it will be considered very unusual. Normally, there will be a lot of competition in this area with men and there will be a lot of doubts about a woman’s competencies. However, there is no need to be afraid of that, because we, women, would also look suspiciously at a man who works as a kindergarten teacher. To be honest, this would raise even more questions”, says Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė.

However, according to her, such stereotypes should be changed and this should be done from an early age.

“Schools already offer robotics, construction and programming groups for children, which can be chosen by both girls and boys. The curriculum of the primary school includes robotics, computer science, and chess lessons.

However, the efforts of the education system alone may not be very effective without parental involvement. From an early age, girls need to be introduced to a variety of activities – not just dancing, singing or painting, to allow them to choose what they like the most”, says the Head of the KTU AI Centre.

She considers that at the moment students may lack information about what they can do after graduating from IT-related studies, i.e., that it is not necessary to work as a programmer – other interesting careers include website development, various jobs related to graphics and visualization (2D and 3D) development or creation of simulation models.

According to Dr Paulauskaitė-Tarasevičienė, parents should also expand their knowledge: they should understand the direction in which the world’s technological development is moving, what careers will emerge in the future, and the opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills needed for those careers. With this knowledge, it would be easier to advise children.

KTU offers informatics studies on all – bachelor’s, master’s and PhD – levels.

9 Aug 2021