Women in the Tech Sector in Latin America

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SEATTLE — Mariana Costa, Herman Marin and Rodulfo Prieto started a web agency in Lima upon graduating from Columbia University. As business grew and the company began expanding, they noticed the difficulty of finding talented web developers and that most job applicants in the field were men.

When they created Laboratoria in 2014, their aim was to increase the presence of women in the tech sector while contributing to the expansion of tech talent in Peru. Laboratoria, a coding academy, trains women with low-income backgrounds in web-developing skills and connects them with employment opportunities.

Laboratoria’s first coding academy opened in Lima, Peru and has since then expanded to another Peruvian city, Arequipa, as well as locations in Chile and Mexico. Women, with low-income backgrounds, apply to the program and those selected have the chance to learn web-development skills such as including JavaScript, CSS and English language programming terms.

According to Al Jazeera, women in the tech sector make up less than 10 percent of Peru’s tech industry employees, and Mariana Costa told Ashoka that more than 22 million Latin American youth do not work or study, and 70 percent of that population are women. Laboratoria works to address both of these issues.

With a network of over 100 companies, Laboratoria partners with local tech businesses to connect their talented graduates with employment opportunities. Additionally, this network helps them keep their lesson plans updated to meet the needs of Peru’s tech sector. They have already helped 400 women become coders.

In fact, 70 percent of Laboratoria graduates are employed or attending college. After they find work, the women in the tech sector make up to three times more than their salary prior to attending Laboratoria, and that difference is expected to rise to four times as much by 2020. By 2020, Laboratoria also hopes to be entirely self-sustaining and to have helped shape 10,000 coders, with 70 percent employment or college attendance rates from graduates.

The women pay back the tuition of the course during their first three years of employment. Before then, the academy is funded by sponsors such as Google, Microsoft and Telefonica among others. Additionally, Laboratoria helps fund its code academy courses with money received from its web shop, a workshop where coders can work with experienced web developers. Laboratoria also offers classes for graduates to keep updating and improving their web-developing skills.

The organization’s success has been awarded and lauded by many such as MIT Technology Review, Google Rise as well as its graduates. Laboratoria’s website shares the impact felt by individuals in the program such as Marisol Carrillo, one of Laboratoria’s students from Mexico, who said, “Laboratoria has been a door to a whole new world of possibilities. Learning how to code is a superpower! Now I can imagine something and start to create it.” Mariana Costa spoke with President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit earlier this month along with other social entrepreneurs. She spoke about how creation and innovation, like that of Laboratoria, can be used for social change.

Laura Isaza

Photo: Flickr

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