Tackling Gender Inequality
in the IT World

In Brazil, men still hold 80 percent of IT jobs,but {reprograma} is helping narrow the gender gap.

Josiane Santiago, 56, worked for 25 years as a physiotherapist but switched to IT in 2019  after taking
a programming course at {reprograma} – Bruno Santos / Folhapress

Read the paper of Havolene Valinhos for Folha de S.Paulo on their website

Published the 8th march 2023

Organizations and companies that advocate social progress have been struggling to change the reality of profound gender disparity in the information technology market. Data from the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) indicates that, in Brazil, out of every 10 technology professionals, only two are women. Yet, gender equity in the IT sector is seen as essential to recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce and enabling companies to have a broader and more accurate view of the world.

Since 2016, there has been a new weapon in this battle: {reprograma}, a Brazilian social startup that provides training, mentorships and industry connections mostly to Black, travesti* and trans women who do not have the resources or opportunities to learn computer programming. 

According to CEO Nadja Brandão, students are qualified for IT jobs once they successfully complete an 18-week course. To date, some 3,000 women have participated in {reprograma}’s selection workshops, and half of them have become students. More than 60 percent identify as Black or brown, and 6 percent identify as trans and/or travesti.

Brandão says that initially, 99 percent of students were white women. However, in order to get everyone to understand that information technology is an accessible market like any other, Black women, single mothers, trans women and travestis as well as economically and socially disadvantaged women were encouraged to apply. 

“White women still participate, but the idea is to open doors so that everyone can see people like themselves in this market; that encourages other women,” says Brandão.

Each student’s file is carefully reviewed so that women who need financial support in order to complete the course can get it. “Not all of them have a computer or access to the internet; others lose their jobs during the course or need to take on a second job to support their families,” says Brandão. “So we seek out institutional and business partnerships to help support them and keep them from giving up.” 

According to Rais ( Annual List of Social Information), female participation in the IT job market in Brazil has grown in recent years from 65,800 women in 2015 to 92,800 in 2021. {reprograma}is working to increase those numbers, and this year expects to fully train more than 440 professionals. 

According to Brandão, more than 85 percent of students find work within six months of graduation. While these results are encouraging, she has no illusions—she knows that many more years of hard work are needed to bring about the end of gender and race inequality in the labor market.

Her own experience as a Black woman who held leadership positions in large corporations led her to advocate for greater diversity. “There is a sense of loneliness because you don’t see other Black women. That’s why I accepted the invitation to work at {reprograma} and bring women closer to leadership positions. Here they learn skills, but they also learn that they can represent and encourage diversity within a great company.” 

That’s what happened to Josiane Santiago, 56, who worked as a physiotherapist for 25 years before seeking a professional change. “{reprograma} was the big turning point for me. There I developed personal and professional skills, but I also shared the experience with other women, and we learned from one another. I empowered myself, I valued myself.” She took the computer programming course in 2019, at age 53; today she works at her second IT company and has been promoted to software engineer.

To get hired, Santiago had to compete with 120 candidates in a program designed to promote the inclusion of Black employees. She was one of 20 selected, only three of whom became long-term employees. Today, she is the only woman in a team of eight people. “We cannot take any progress for granted; we have to fight to claim our place in the sun.”

Another success story is that of Beatriz Ramerindo, 25. In August 2021, after taking the  {reprograma} course, she moved from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo where she now works as both a teacher and a software engineer at the company that was her first choice. “I went from a next-to-nothing income to earning three times the minimum wage plus benefits in a company that is a {reprograma} partner.”

Ramerindo says that she lived most of her life with her family in the Complexo do Chapadão (in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro). Low family income and other factors caused her to drop out of school after the sixth grade, but in 2014, she finished school through EJA (Education for Youth and Adults). Five years later, at the beginning of her gender transition, she graduated from high school.

In 2020, a friend told Ramerindo about {reprograma}. She was already familiar with JavaScript, so she participated in the selection workshop to support her friend. As it turned out, both were selected for the {reprograma} course.

For Keila Simpson, president of Antra (Asociación de Travestis, Transexuales y Transgéneros de Argentina, an association that advocates for trans rights), initiatives that allow the insertion of the trans population in the labor market are positive, and she hopes that there will be more such programs leading to more opportunities. “It is very important for Black women, transsexuals and travestis to be hired, because these people face major exclusion.”

Along with {reprograma}, a number of other institutions and companies are now offering training to help more women break into Brazil’s IT market. Among them are PretaLab, Microsoft, Softex, Mais Mulheres em Tech (More Women in Tech), Olabi, Assespro-PR, PrograMaria and TechGirls.

*Travesti is a transfeminine gender identity present in Brazil and in other countries in Latin America. It is a term that transgresses the binary standards that define what is male and female. The term does not refer to an artistic expression, but to a political position of a social group in Brazil. For some time it was considered pejorative, associated with prostitution.