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The Power of Mentoring and Networking for Women in STEM—An IBM Female Talents Network Story

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The IBM Female Talents Network is a network of female students and career starters in the DACH region (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland). One highly successful initiative in this network is the Mentoring Program, a collaboration with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Bosch. This program focuses on mentoring talented female students in the early stage of their career. Through this program and other events like the IBM Consulting Experience Workshops, we create opportunities for women to gain more insights into IBM technologies and our working culture, and to learn from female role models in DACH.

We interviewed Daniela Kaun, a former participant of the IBM Female Talents Network Program in Germany and former mentee of the Mentoring Program. Here she shares her experience about the program and how it has changed her impression of IBM.

Daniela Kaun, IBM Female Talents Network

Hi Daniela! Thanks for doing this interview with us. To begin, please tell us about yourself.

Hi there, I’m Daniela and I’m doing my master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Management at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) Germany. I describe my studies more as Information Systems as I’ve put a focus on Computer Science and Machine Learning early on.

You were an active participant in the IBM Female Talents Networks. What is this about and what opportunities did it open up for you?

Three years ago, I took part in the IBM Consulting Experience Workshop (now IBM Service Associates Workshop) offered by the IBM Female Talents Network. Together with other female students, we developed a case study and presented it in front of a jury. We had a lot of fun and gained very valuable insights into the industry – especially from a female perspective. That is why I applied for an internship the following semester.

The contacts from the workshop helped a lot and supported me all the way through the application process. Last year I applied for a working student job to work as an intermediary between KIT and IBM, organizing workshops and establishing a local network for students.

I also took part in the Mentoring Program as part of the IBM Female Talents Network at KIT last year. Throughout the year, we participated in several workshops where we were able to develop personally and get to know role models from the industry. Every participant got a female mentor for personal support. Through my mentor, I gained insights into the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Practice at IBM. It was an exceptional opportunity for me as I am focusing on these topics during my studies.

That means you joined IBM through the IBM Female Talents Network. What was your impression of IBM before and after you joined?

Yes, I started at IBM with an internship in the IoT Watson Consulting Practice. At that time, my knowledge of IBM is just from a few lectures I took at the Karlsruhe Service Institute (KSRI) at KIT. And of course, I knew about Watson winning in the Jeopardy Show. The picture that I had in mind about IBM was different from what I experienced. Instead of being the corporate and traditional working environment I envisioned, it turned out to be a start-up-like atmosphere, where open communication was present and encouraged across hierarchies.

What challenges do you see for women in the IT industry and how have you dealt with them?

It’s important to fight against the prejudices in the tech industry. Women are able to code and be brilliant computer scientists! My parents raised me to stand up for my own ideas and follow them no matter what others thought. I decided to take the opportunity and chose a technical path. From my own experience, I can say that the prejudices are more prevalent outside of the industry than on the inside. So, my advice would be to take the first step as it’s worth crossing the first barrier.

Some young women find the IT world intimidating. What advice would you give them for their start in the IT world?

It’s a proven fact that diverse teams are more successful. Therefore, we should not be discouraged by the high quota of men in the industry. Follow your ideas and think: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

A great advantage of the IT industry is that open source is present throughout. Big companies like IBM offer a lot of different eLearning resources which enable students to gain insights into various fields. Thereby, entry barriers can be lowered again, and confidence in your own abilities can be acquired.

If you could give one advice for young females considering a career in tech, what would they be?

Through the various offerings for female talents at IBM, I was able to develop personally and technically. I strongly recommend taking part in opportunities to connect with other talents and be acquainted with influential role models. Taking the opportunity to talk to female role models in the tech industry and ask them about their journey helped me to find my own way. Hence, it is most important to stay curious and to not let other people dictate what you can do and cannot do.

You, too, can have the same amazing experience as Daniela! If you are a female student looking for opportunities in IBM DACH, you are invited to join the IBM Female Students Network.

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