• Aretha Sawarin

Humanizing success through a gender lens



Talking Tech: Women and Girls in ICT is an intergenerational interview series organized by ITU, UNICC and the Office of the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth. The initiative is in support of Girls in ICT Day 2020-2022 and a partner contribution to EQUALS, the Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age. Talking Tech offers perspectives on the world of technology in the private and public sector. The interviews give insight into the challenges, achievements and experiences of women who are established tech professionals, as well as girls and young women who are just entering the field.


“If you get defeated and can’t face what’s happening, remember that no one ever accomplished anything by not trying... and what if you fail? It’s not the end of the world! Nothing ever changes unless you put in the effort.” - Kate Wilson, CEO of Digital Impact Alliance


As a 23-year-old woman, freshly graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS), it is an honour for me to have the opportunity to not only watch these interviews but to also provide my insight. After watching the interviews, the only word that comes to mind is: empowered. I feel incredibly empowered hearing the lived experiences of both women and girls in the world of technology that is highly dominated by men. I find that the main reason why I feel so empowered is because of how much I can relate to the struggles and concerns that these women had in their careers and life. Here is an overview of some of the most empowering lessons that I’ve taken away from these women, and some of the advice that they have given to the viewers.


1. Tenacity


In the interview between Parul Agrawal, from the NASA Ames Research Center, and Eman Ashraf Elnour, a Health student from New York University, Parul explains how in her university years, she faced many challenges such as being the only woman in her class and having to work alone because the boys did not want to work with her. Despite that, she worked hard, got into Silicon Valley, and soon entered NASA to work on developing heat shields to bring astronauts home, among many more exciting projects.


It is also fascinating to see how Parul has had to balance between having a special needs son and balancing her passions in tech. It is so empowering to see how despite being a mother for a child that requires more attention, she is still very much passionate about her work and strives to strike a balance between both. Because there is still a stigma in the working world today surrounding being a woman and how it hinders one’s ability to be totally proficient in her job because of pregnancy and childcare, it is empowering to see how Parul, managed to get to where she is now through hard work.



2. Embracing Failure


In the interview conducted between Abadesi Osunade, Founder and CEO of Hustle Crew and co-host of Techish podcast interviewed by Loyce Witherspoon, then Community Engagement Manager at Internet Society (now at Tech For Social Impact), Abadesi talked about the importance of failing in order to learn from her experiences. She quoted Steve Jobs, who said, “You can never connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect the dots looking backwards”. She noted that she had to fail more than a hundred times before truly understanding the world of tech. She also touched upon a very prevalent issue that I’ve seen in my experiences as well: the socialization of women to be nice and appease people around us, instead of taking risks and being confident in our decisions.


“Change your relationship with failure... I was basically setting myself up for failure because of my avoidance of failure. When you fail, you grow.” - Abadesi Osunsade, Founder and CEO of Hustle Crew


Personally, this is what I struggle with the most, in that I tend to fear failure so often that I end up regretting not taking chances or opportunities. Either that, or I tend to want to perform perfectly, that I end up combusting from my self-imposed pressure before even starting on a task. I don’t think that this is a “woman only” issue per se, but it is the notion that women have been taught to behave and fit in more so that we fear failing because it might expose the predetermined weaknesses in us. Abadesi and Loyce cover the importance of using their cultural heritages and backgrounds, such as being women of colour, to empower themselves and others through their lived experiences. Abadesi’s passion for tech truly resonated with me, as it showed that it is only through passion, determination, and believing in oneself that it is possible to succeed.


3. Shared Experiences


It is empowering to see how much the interview subjects have achieved (not just in their careers, but also as individuals). In the interview with Margaux Joffe, Accessibility and Corporate Responsibility, Verizon, and Beatriz Jimenez, Broadcast Engineering Trainee, BBC, Margaux shares some of the struggles that she faced as someone with ADHD and how she has used that experience and knowledge as a way to help others now.


One of the struggles that she faced really hit home for me and that is her struggles with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when someone feels like they are a fraud, and that they cannot accept their achievements and accomplishments as their own. For me, it was always very easy to question my own abilities, even when I gained recognition for the hard work that I’ve put into something. I do still struggle with this and constantly feel like people will soon “find out” that I am not who they perceive me to be. Much of this stems from a place of low self-worth and the notion that I am undeserving of success. Hearing that someone as accomplished as Margaux has experienced these sorts of feelings helped to humanize the feeling for me, and to acknowledge that this is something that many people face as well.


As a reflection of an industry that is male-dominated and with high barriers to entry, the Talking Tech series has helped to shine light on the endless, and sometimes unexpected, possibilities that technology has opened up for women. Through showcasing the passions and different types of work in the industry, I have not only learnt the usefulness of technology to help others, but also relate to the personal struggles and tenacity that these women have gone through in their lives. It has also sparked a strong motivation in me to continue working hard towards my passions and goals, and to be able to fight through the everyday struggles that I currently face in my life.


I would like to end with a quote by Mercedes Escala, Vice President, CSR Initiatives, IBM Corporate Social Responsibility, from her interview with Robin Zuercher, Programme Officer at ITU. Mercedes says that her motto in life is:


“Always remember that you bring the weather to the picnic, and to not allow others to put their weather on you.” - Mercedes Escala, VP CSR Initiatives, IBM


We are all unique individuals with our own lived experiences who will always be able to add value into everything that we do.

Aretha Sawarin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies, with a specialization in International Communications and South Asia, from the National University of Singapore. She is a diverse individual who is passionate about social impact and human rights, focusing on advocacy relating to refugee management and low-waged migrant workers. She believes in the role of collective and individual efforts to bring about change in the world. In her free time, she loves to read books, indulge in Friends and walk her chihuahua. Aretha Sawarin is a UN Volunteer.


This blog post was inspired by episodes 21-30 of Talking Tech: Girls and Women in ICT, an intergenerational interview project in support of Girls in ICT Day 2020-2022 and of EQUALS. The project is run by ITU, UN ICC and the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.


To watch the interviews and follow the updates please visit the dedicated playlist on the EQUALS YouTube Channel.


Cover photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash.


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