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From classrooms to the office, Intel addresses high-tech gender gap in Costa Rica

February 4, 2016

In Costa Rica, as in many other countries, there is intense demand for electrical, electronic and computer engineers – yet only 15 percent of those choosing engineering and technology as a career are women. The multinational technology giant Intel, with offices and plants in 160 countries, is trying to change that picture.

“We want women to design our products because women are our customers. Most of our end products are used by women,” says Timothy Scott, public affairs manager at Intel’s Costa Rican offices in La Ribera de Belén. “They can also provide a diverse way of thinking which will result in diverse ways of solving problems. … There is the perception that engineering is for men. It is also a field that is not as visible as teaching, nursing or retail.”

Intel
Intel's elementary-school workshops aim to give girls a boost toward futures in engineering. (Courtesy of Intel)

Intel has initiated several projects to give girls a look at engineering as a career. “Juguemos a ser ingenieros,” or “Let’s Pretend We’re Engineers,” is for girls and boys in fourth and fifth grades and gives kids a hands-on experience. It also dispels any notions that girls might have about not being on par with the boys.

“In four-hour sessions, they go from knowing nothing to designing and producing something. Kids love it,” says Scott. “They begin to think of futures in engineering. They lose their fear of technology.”

So far, 750 kids in ten schools have been involved and other schools are waiting for the program. In upper grades, students work with STEM, an organization which promotes Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and get to meet engineers in person. Their guest speakers might come from NASA or from Costa Rica: the goal is to show students that engineers are people just like them, and to learn about their options in the field.

Intel also sponsors the winners of local science fairs that bring girls into leadership roles with technology, covering their costs to attend international science fairs. At the university level, Intel offers part-time jobs to promising students that they can do real work and earn something while they study.

Once women are working at Intel, the operations seek to remove impediments to women’s ascent to high-ranking positions: the company provides “mother’s rooms” where lactating mothers can rest and extract their milk for baby’s feeding, and allows parents to ask for flexible schedules to have more family time. The Women at Intel Network (WIN) is an international organization with a Costa Rican chapter that seeks to make the workplace more comfortable in a male-dominated profession.

It will take a generation to make changes, says Scott: “We hope that by 2020 we will see parity of men and women studying engineering and technology.”

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