Expertes Genre

Three questions to Laura Peytavin, engineer committed to a better representation of women in the digital jobs

Laura Peytavin

Professional Cybersecurity consultant - Proofpoint

Laura Peytavin is an engineer who has been passionate about digital technologies since her adolescence. She graduated from Télécom Paris in 1990, at the very beginning of the construction of the Internet, and is now a pre-sales consultant in cybersecurity for a major American publisher. She is also very involved in associations and militates for the rights of women and gender minorities. aura Peytavin was a member of the French National Advisory Commission on Human Rights from 2012 to 2015. She is also president of the Télécom Paris graduates’ association. Her condition as a transgender woman and her interest in the major challenges of human rights and gender equality provide her with an insight, both practiced and offbeat, into the careers of women in digital schools and professions.

A few weeks before the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, the Expertes Genre team spoke with her about her commitment and the role of digital issues in achieving gender equality in France and abroad.

Expertes Genre: As president of the Télécom Paris graduates’ association, you are committed to improving the representation of women in new technology-related professions. What those roles have allowed you to notice? And what message do you bring to students, professors and future employers of these young people?

I represent a community of engineers which, for more than ten years, has never seen more than 22-23% of women leaving the school. Télécom Paris has therefore set itself the objective of achieving a 30% female graduation rate by 2025. However, I have noticed that young women are gradually making themselves more visible and offsetting their low proportion in the workforce. There are many female presidents leading student associations in general, for example in the Student Office and the Junior Entreprise. We see them mobilized in initiatives and associations dealing with environmental challenges or in actions to support disadvantaged students.

Our association is committed to bringing students and graduates together through mentoring. In this way, we give ourselves the means to listen to and respond to the expectations and concerns of our young generation about the world of work. Here again, many female students are responding to the call. For those who would like to know more, we have recently published a full study in the association’s magazine dedicated to the issues related to gender equality.

For its part, the school sets up actions to monitor sexist behavior and sexual harassment among students. This vigilance remains essential because without protection and strong promotion of the culture of respect during these precious years, women will always have to leave in their professional life with, if not strong wounds, inhibitions preventing them from fighting and being confident with themselves. The school also mobilizes its staff and alumninetwork to highlight the career paths of women engineers, experts or entrepreneurs, and teacher-researchers, thus nourishing representations with the help of various role models, in order to disseminate them to the greatest number of people.

At my humble level, I relay all these messages every time I can. I try to make gestures and practices on a daily basis such as giving the floor back to women, limiting manterrupting[1] in discussions and meetings. I advocate for the organization of webinars to interest and motivate women engineers in the network to participate in the Board of Directors of companies.

Women’s emancipation and empowerment will have benefited greatly from the digital society.

Laura Peytavin, president of the Télécom Paris graduates’ association
  • How do you think new technologies and innovation can help promote gender equality?

New technologies, through the new uses they have created, have acted incidentally in favor of gender equality. First of all, the creation of the Internet has created the conditions for sharing knowledge on a multiplied scale and without any barriers: the universal world library. This has allowed minorities or minority visions stifled by the dominant culture to express themselves and to find larger audiences, including women, across the world.

Then the internet 2.0, with social networks, was developed. These community sharing platforms have finally taken a prominent place. They bring new virtues to our societies, but also the worst nightmares (cognitive bubbles, magical thinking, conspiracy, hatred, etc.). Among the virtues, movements like the iconic #MeToo and all those that have followed show that it is possible to start making deep changes. Women’s emancipation and empowermentwill have benefited greatly from the digital society.

Counter-intuitively, gender diversity in the digital technology professions has regressed since the 1980s and 1990s. As Isabelle Collet says in our issue 198 of Revue Telecom, quoting Janet Abbate: “Women have not left IT, they have been pushed out by freshly graduated men who have suddenly become their bosses.

However, we are beginning to see the consequences of this regression beyond the profession itself: many data processing operations are marked by discriminatory biases, including gender bias. The risk of a loss of confidence in digital technologies has thus become real. However, it seems very risky and nonsensical to solve all this within a world that forgets women.

Moreover, the whole profession is experiencing a huge shortage of technical and expert profiles worldwide, and particularly in France. This is why we are starting to see company management and human resources taking action in terms of recruitment to attract female profiles and support role models within their workforce.

In France, the State itself, in the name of its regalian action on the country’s digital security, has announced a strategic plan of one billion euros to influence the cybersecurity sector, with the declared will to recruit 40,000 new talents by 2025. Let’s hope that this plan will be accompanied by incentives to hire at least 20,000 women as part of those 40,000.

  • At the end of the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico at the end of March, a preliminary version of the action plansfor each of the Forum’s central themes was published, including those relating to “technologies and innovation for gender equality”. One of the actions envisaged in this framework is to double the proportion of women working in technology and innovation by 2026, by setting up new networks and reference points to transform innovation in ecosystems. What do you think about this goal? What do you think should be implemented to reach it?

I obviously support these voluntary targets and I agree with the need to set up new networks, some purely female and others mixed, made up of women and their allies.

If I had to describe the actions to be implemented, I would first mention three concrete actions, widely but unequally initiated in the world, namely:

  • Ensure that women can access positions (or are being reserved some of these positions) of high responsibility in organizations in the digital or information technology sector. Thanks to these women leaders, the other actions can be put in place, because they then hold the purse strings and the decision-making authority necessary to face conservatism;
  • Multiply the actions of exposure of various role models of women executives, entrepreneurs and experts;
  • Ensure that women do not find themselves isolated in all-male teams. There are still too many women who get discouraged and leave the heart of organizations in charge of innovation and development at 35-40 years old, because they have only been part of male teams, alone, without at least one other female colleague at their side. However, encouraging the creation of teams where several women are present allows, on the one hand, mutual support, but also and above all, the end of this pseudo benevolent aphorism present in the head of men: “she is the exception that confirms the rule”.

Also, the place of women in the digital sector cannot be legitimized only on an accounting level. It is also important to emphasize that women in the digital sector enrich the sector with new values and representations, such as those based on the ethics of care, attention and courage. They thus contribute to maintaining the integrity and survival of the sector, as well as to redefining its purpose in the service of a society and economy that respects people and their environment.

[1]manterrupting is a word that is a fusion of the terms “man” and “interrupting”. It refers to the behaviour of men when they interrupt women in discussions or debates because of their gender.