Opening Doors for Women in IT

Speeches Shim

Monday, February 1, 2021
Sasha Sternik and her team members

Creating Opportunities for Women in Tech in Uzbekistan

Working in information technology (IT), Sasha Sternik is often one of the few women in the room. When she moved to Uzbekistan from Moscow to lead the External Projects and Investments team at IT PARK Uzbekistan, she was disappointed - but not entirely surprised - to see very low participation from women in IT PARK’s incubation and acceleration activities. “You know why it is sad?” she reflects. “Because that means that young girls will not have role models to look up to. They won’t even know that this career path exists for them.” Sasha decided something must change today to ensure more equal representation in the field tomorrow. The Tumaris.Tech project was born, with two primary aims - to support women’s empowerment in Uzbekistan and to drastically improve the investment climate in the country.

“The Tumaris.Tech project was conceived exactly a year ago – as a concept, of course. It came to me when I reflected on the issue of gender inequality from the perspective of the startup ecosystem in Uzbekistan,” Sasha recalls. While sources differ on the exact numbers, it is estimated that women comprise fewer than 15 percent of students in the country’s IT universities – with an even smaller percentage who go on to work in the field.

Sasha says that changing these statistics requires a culture shift. “How would we change the perception that women are ‘less capable than men in STEM’ (science, technology, engineering, or math) or that a developer role is ‘no place for a woman’? Only by showing people that they are wrong by getting more women in STEM and ensuring they succeed.” She knows that many women may feel intimidated by STEM fields – not because of their skills or potential, but out of fear that they know less than their peers and might be made fun of.

When Sasha heard that USAID was accepting grant applications, she knew this was her chance to advance new opportunities for women in IT. Her team was successfully awarded funding, but soon realized that there was even more work to be done to educate people on financing startups to create a sustainable ecosystem. “We desperately want some successful examples to create role models. And in most cases, to create these successful examples, we need to make sure that founders have financing. Unfortunately, statistically, women are less likely to raise a round [of funding], while they are more successful in managing the money and deliver better ROI [return on investment] than men,” Sasha explains.

By the last round of the grant competition, the Tumaris.Tech concept had expanded to three components: educational courses, an incubation and acceleration program, and a school of business angels. The incubation and acceleration programs were launched in September 2020, engaging women from across the country in practical IT projects; participants ranged from 15 to 51 years of age. “Truth to be told, that was extremely inspiring,” she says. “I wanted these women to believe in themselves, to see that they can do it.”

The project quickly received recognition for its early impact with a nomination for the WomenTech Global Network Award 2020 as Upskill & Reskill Program of the Year.

“It was both exciting and scary. We were the first ones from the Central Asian region, we were very young (in comparison with other projects), we were not that big. But at the same time, when we announced our educational courses’ registration, we got more than 1,000 applications in the first 24 hours. That was an absolute record for IT Park. And it validated the idea that we are doing something right.”

Ultimately, the project was awarded the WomenTech’s bronze medal. “While it might be one small step for the company, it is one giant leap for the cause. We did something right, and we will continue to do it,” Sasha promises. “And we won’t be doing it for all the potential awards, but rather for all the feedback we are getting, because it shows that we are changing lives.”

Last updated: April 08, 2021

Share This Page