Lindalia Junqueira: “Gender inequality in expertise impacts company income”
The first Brazilian woman selected by NASA as a world leader in innovation at Singularity University, the CEO of Hacking.Rio and official ambassador in Brazil for Global Women in Tech talks about the challenge of being a female leader in the sector
It’s hard to imagine that someone from a poor childhood, without access to technology labs in the public schools he passed through, would later become a major influence of technology. Just add the “woman” layer to that profile and the feat looks even more distant. But the carioca Lindalia Junqueira challenged this logic: despite having all these characteristics, she is a strong reference when it comes to leadership in information technology, in Brazil and in the world, and says that education has made her where she is today.
Through scholarships and her dedication to opportunities in this market, she worked in large companies, such as Globo, where she created the first open innovation area in Brazil. Her determination also led her to the status of the first Brazilian selected by NASA as a world leader in innovation at Singularity University in 2010.
“On arriving at NASA, it was amazing to discover that I could learn robotics from one of the world’s top experts, astronaut Dan Barry, in just four hours. And then, having the ability to develop a project as a team. There, it made no difference whether I was a woman or not,” she says.
But the 57-year-old executive was never content with her academic titles and awards, which are many. Even at NASA, she was always interested in collaboration and the purpose behind her resume. “Discovering how exponential technologies work and how to create solutions that truly impact humanity opens the mind to infinite possibilities.”
Its cause is clear: to contribute to the training and encouragement of people interested in information technology, with special attention to increasing spaces for women in the area, which is still very male. The executive has a point. In the last five years, although women’s participation in the technology market in Brazil has grown by 60%, they occupy only 20% of tech vacancies, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). According to another study, this time conducted by the Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais Anísio Teixeira (INEP), only 13% of computer science students are women, of which 47% end up dropping out halfway.
With that in mind, in 2017 Lindalia founded the social movement Juntos pelo Rio, alongside other entrepreneurs, with the aim of linking entrepreneurship to innovation and technology. There, she created a collective of hackathons, programming marathons where hacker developers meet for 42 hours to develop solutions based on real market and society challenges.
A year later, the executive founded Hacking.Rio, the biggest programming marathon in Latin America, whose fifth edition took place between the 1st and 4th of September in the metaverse and in Rio de Janeiro. She is also CEO and founder of Ions Innovation, which offers consultancy and training in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, as well as being the official ambassador in Brazil of Global Women in Tech, an international non-profit organization with the mission to encourage and train more women in technology area, which at the beginning of September recognized Brazilian programmers in its Latin American version of the award.
Check out our conversation with Lidalia, who has numerous awards under her belt, such as the 2012 IBC Innovation Awards, in addition to being elected the woman with the greatest social impact in Latin America by Bloomberg in 2022.
The technology market is mostly male. What is it like to be not just a woman in the field, but a female leader in this sector? Did you face resistance or difficulties? Which?
Only 20% of IT positions in Brazil are held by women, according to the latest survey by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). When I graduated in engineering in 1988, few women were studying and pursuing a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Despite having been debunked by science, the idea still persists that biological reasons determine the different paths of boys and girls. According to this perception, the woman would have a “natural” ability for activities that demand attention and affection, but not rationality, an attribute considered masculine.
Gradually, the women who have been standing out in the sector have broken this stereotype. Examples like das Ninas — Nina Silva, CEO of Black Money, Nina da Hora, data scientist, and Nina Talks (Karina Tronkos), five-time champion of the Global Apple Challenge — inspire other women to dive into this tech market in Brazil.
Being a female leader in the tech sector has always required me to show results above expectations. Often, I had to study harder, work harder than others and surpass all my goals. Even so, the pay was lower than men in the same position. I didn’t have to be a feminist, “burn my bra”, but I often had to adopt typically masculine attitudes to have space, to have a voice. Sometimes resistance even comes from other women. Yes, I’ve been through moral, sexual harassment and exclusion.
I started to have the courage to expose myself more, to speak openly about these difficulties, to win allies to the cause and associate myself with other movements in favor of women in technology.
Data indicate that, by 2025, the market will need about 800,000 new talents in the areas of digital technologies. We see that this gap already exists in the market: there is a lack of professionals in the sector. At the same time, there are still few women in the area. Could it be an opportunity? What are the barriers to entry for women in this segment?
Yes, a super opportunity. Companies and investors have already understood that diversity brings productivity. Now they demand more women on the boards, on the councils. And I’ve been approached by several companies to hire more women for tech jobs. Even at Hacking.Rio, the biggest developer marathon that is already in its 5th edition, we had clusters only of women to hire.
Research by the Boston Consulting Group points out that, even receiving less investment, startups led by women are very efficient and bring greater returns than those founded by men: they generated 12% more revenue in cumulative income over a five-year period.
Barriers still exist, since the lack of incentive, what begins with the choice of graduation (although more than 60% of higher education graduates in Brazil are women, only 23.9% of them graduate in engineering courses), the triple journey of studying, working and taking care of family, children, and to the point of self-sabotage, of not seeing oneself in this place.
How to bridge the gender, race and ethnicity gap in the technology sector?
Inequality of gender, race and ethnicity in the technology sector impacts not only culture, but also company profits. In 2017, McKinsey found that the top 25 companies for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to earn above-average profits. So at the beginning we need interventions. If not, it will take us at least 80 years to have a minimum of equity. This is also why the law on women’s participation in councils has become so important.
We have many qualified women, and the time has come to open this space for collegiate decision-making. For example, the European Parliament has just reached an agreement to create a law that sets gender equity targets for publicly traded companies in the European Union. The text provides that, in councils without executive functions, the minimum percentage of seats occupied by women must be 40% and, in collegiate bodies with these functions, 33%. In both cases, the achievement of the goals must occur by the end of the first half of 2026. Yes, we need attitudes and decisions that demonstrate this transformation. Examples such as former Microsoft president Paula Bellizia, who upon taking over demanded that 50% of her employee base be made up of women.
We have to create these tech learning environments for girls from elementary schools to technical centers. Encouraging these practices, immersion bootcamps, expanding access to technology courses in communities and investments for startups led by women.
What is it like to be the first Brazilian woman chosen by Singularity University at NASA’s Ames Research Center?
For those who came from a super poor childhood, studying in public schools, without access to technology laboratories, it was education that transformed me and opened up this vision. And always with each step conquered, I had to take the first step. I confess that when I signed up for the program, I didn’t imagine being selected. In 2010, when they launched Singularity, they selected a leader from each country, with different experiences and expertise. I understood that they chose me not only because of my curriculum, but also because of my ability to execute and multiply.
Arriving at NASA, it was an incredible discovery that I could learn robotics from one of the world’s top experts, astronaut Dan Barry, in just four hours. And, later, he already has the ability to develop a project as a team. There, it made no difference whether I was a woman or not.
Discovering how exponential technologies work and how to create solutions that truly impact humanity opens the mind to infinite possibilities. Technologies are increasingly accessible, cheaper, simpler to use. It makes a difference today who can engage to collaborate. There is no innovation without collaboration.
How was the Women In Tech Latin America awards? What do you think were the highlights of the event?
Last year we held the first Women in Tech Brazil, and we opened up this visibility of Brazilian women and impact initiatives to the rest of the world. There are more than 100 countries participating in the Global Women in Tech, and for the first time a Brazilian woman wins the global final. Nina Silva won the “Disruptive Innovation” category.
This year we were selected to host the first Latam award on September 1st. We received more than 500 entries and nominations, and from the 5 finalists in each of the 8 categories, we had several Brazilian winners who will now compete for the global award, which will take place on October 13, in Dubai.
Have you ever had some sort of self-sabotage feeling? How do you deal with this situation and what tips do you give to women who feel that way in the projects, areas and places where you work?
I didn’t have self-sabotage, but I’ve had burnout, physical, mental and emotional stress… I’ve even reached depression. I crossed the line. And we dedicate ourselves so much, so much, that when we realize it, we already have no energy to continue in the fight, not knowing how to get out of this. Today I see what happens to many other women, even more so in this period of isolation due to the pandemic. Few share this difficulty, so I decided to speak openly and point out ways to help.
What advice would you give to young women looking to build a career in the tech industry?
Try it without fear. Look for other women and communities that already work in technology, who will be able to guide. There is no one way to start. You often find that programming, codes and algorithms may not be your profile, but you can work in the sector as management, data analysis, interface designer, digital marketing, customer service… in short, there are several careers allied to the sector that depend on of that diversity.
Which inspiring women do you follow, read and observe? How do they inspire you?
Sheryl Sandberg, Nina Silva, Luiza Helena Trajano and Ana Fontes. Tireless women in building support networks for other women. Example of management in action, of multiplication of volunteers in favor of their causes, of real impact. Ana Fontes, for example, shows indicators, surveys, and built a network of more than 9 million women in Brazil.
Finally, do you have any tips on series, movies, games, books and/or music that you’ve consumed recently that made you reflect on the condition and role of women?
For film, I suggest Self-made: The Life and Story of Madam CJ Walker, Joy: The Name of Success, Coco Before Chanel, Coded Bias and The Network Dilemma.
To read, I recommend the books “If you don’t have an ass, wear a bow in your hair”, by Barbara Corcoran, an American investor and businesswoman, and “Make It Happen”, by Sheryl Sandberg, an American businesswoman.
Source: Medium and message