Women, shaping the Internet of Things?
OK, I know, the headline is a little bit of a tease. However, USA Today titled an early June story »How women are changing the tech world« – so I am safe, right? When I recently did some research on some of the key people in the internet of things and services (IoT), I discovered that only a few of them are women, but they are influential figures. Neelie Kroes, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Christine Outram – just to mention a few. And I added two to my list: Sirkka Freigang, one of the authors of an IoT skill study (read our recent interview with Sirkka here) and Barbara Ruhmann, working for the isw Institute for Structural Policy and Economic Development, and managing the »Female Smart House Professionals« project. We invited Barbara to introduce this IoT venture here in our blog.
Barbara, what led you to found the Female Smart House Professionals project?
Our 2010 study work on key skills in IoT for the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research paved the way for the Female Smart House Professionals project. Our expert interviews with companies in the smart building sector raised many opportunities – but also challenges. The interviewees foresaw potential for professional growth, but also recognized that the sector has a lack of formalized qualifications. Knowledge of the internet of things and of technologies for smart buildings was seen as not sufficiently integrated into apprenticeships or academic courses. That is why these companies faced a shortage in qualified professionals; at the same time women are underrepresented. We consider the Female Smart House Professionals project offers a unique combination of knowledge transfer and the chance to promote a cool new technology among female professionals. The project is funded by the Bundesinitiative Gleichstellung von Frauen in der Wirtschaft, a German government initiative on equal rights. Additionally, the SmartHome Initiative Deutschland e. V. and the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, Bitkom are involved as non-commercial partners.
How can you support IoT companies or vendors of smart house products and solutions?
We currently work with 18 SMEs that are either already active in the smart building segment or see their future in this area. We offer consulting for the C-suite and help in building equal opportunity company structures – also for smaller companies that don’t have professional HR business partners. 36 females across Germany are currently undertaking their qualification course to become »Female Smart House Professionals«. Three tracks are available: system consulting & sales, system integration, and remote maintenance. We help SMEs through our tailor-made approach to education; I like the fact that our program is not a standardized, external training at an academy, since our trainees have different backgrounds. These women are trained right at their workplaces by our experts, with additional self-study units. The learning progress and results achieved are shared in a closed online community. There is also an online study diary which documents milestones of this two-semester program and forms the basis for the final certification.
As you represent the project, are you getting feedback that the IoT and its areas of application are cool high-tech destinations for women?
Well, in fact I do receive lots of positive feedback – and I hear lots of companies telling me that they would like to see more of their female workforce active in this segment, to bring in their female perspective.
In the beginning, we had to tackle some self-confidence hurdles our trainees had. For most of them, the smart house area was something new and they felt overwhelmed by the technical details. Now, after having been in the project since June 2011, the feedback of our participants is overwhelmingly positive. One of our trainees wrote me an email stating that she had mastered the technical basics of building automation. She reported having more self-confidence and strength in customer conversations.
Thank you, Barbara, for the interview. If you want to join the project and get regular updates, register for the Female Smart House Professionals Xing group, moderated by Barbara and Sirkka.
One of my (male) colleagues stated, when I told him about this blog post, that he thinks women will be the better smart home professionals. Ah – stop! It’s NOT what you think. He explained that women are masters of creating connections – a crucial skill for smart homes and further areas of application for the Internet of Things. Do you agree?