Girls In Tech Dublin - Coral Movasseli

Girls In Tech Dublin - Coral Movasseli

December 10 2019

Laura and Paul had a fascinating conversation with Coral Movasseli (Managing Director of Girls in Tech Dublin) about how to get more women into the tech industry.

Read on or listen to the discussion below.

About Coral

Laura Smyth: Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Coral Movasseli: Yes, of course, I'm Coral Movasseli. I'm the managing director of Girls in Tech here in Ireland. I'm Canadian. You probably can tell from the accent. I'm from Toronto, proud Torontonian. I came over here to Ireland about three and a half years ago. My husband Owen Carroll from Tipperary dragged me over, and since then I lovingly stayed.

Coral Movasseli: My background is quite interesting because I'm part of what you would call the leaky pipeline of women. I started at a very young age, and you know, this was when you had the big clunky computers and things like that, when everyone just had one computer in their household. I started coding, creating websites, and I was gaming? And I was just naturally interested in those things. Had top grades and calculus and math. I didn't go into engineering or computer science. Didn't. I Remember considering it at the time when I was in high school in Canada, and I just thought, I don't see myself there. I remember those instances.

Coral Movasseli: And I made my way into tech, it was quite an arduous journey and a boomerang. I studied, for my undergraduate degree, I did a bachelor's of science in political science at the University of Ottawa, and I did my masters of science at the London School of Economics in research. Heavy research in the social sciences, and all of techs and economics. And I found my way into tech by starting off as a business analyst. I was always a business analyst or economic analyst, and moved my way through that and got into products.

Coral Movasseli: And then found myself working in tech products, and then building a tech product with a friend of mine in Toronto. We built a digital app for the transportation system. We wanted to give users access to real live data for all the different transportation modes in Canada. And we built that. And then now I lead Girls in Tech here, and I've been working in products prior to that as well.

Coral Movasseli: That's the arduous journey into technology. And I say that because I think it's important for people to understand that getting into tech is not always a linear trajectory. It's not always about, hey, I'm going to study computer science or computer engineering and I'm going to be a coder with a hoodie, and I'm just going to read comic books and do gaming and stuff like that. I don't game anymore. I don't read comic books anymore, things like that. And you don't have to fit into that archetype. You don't have to follow that trajectory. You can make it your own, and even later on in life. It's what you make out of it.

Paul Smyth: What stopped you getting into tech? You talked about thinking about computer science. It seemed like it was a conscious decision.

Coral Movasseli: It was a conscious decision. Actually, what I was considering at the time was engineering, and it was a conscious decision. I just thought about, well what is that? What does that mean? And at the time, I wanted to do something where I felt like I can put my thumbprint in the world, I can make an impact. And I could not see how engineering could do that. When I thought about it, I thought about men standing around. It's what I saw as engineering, and it was men standing around with hardhats. And I thought, I don't fit into that. And I don't know what I can do with that. What does that actually mean?

Coral Movasseli: And I thought, well how can I make an impact? And I think when ... You just know what you know at the age, and what you know is what's the school system tells you and what your parents tell you. And it's here are these professions, you can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be a teacher, you can be a nurse, and you just know these industry professions.

Coral Movasseli: But you don't know the nuances. If you don't have a parent who studied engineering, and also shares that knowledge with you and what that could mean for your life and for your career, you're kind of exempt from that. You're a product of the exposure and the knowledge that you have. And not that I regret, but if I could go back having the knowledge I have now, I would have studied computer engineering. That would have made sense for me. That was my natural fit. I don't regret studying the social sciences and, and economics and politics. It gave me a breadth and exposure into how to do proper research and how do you see the world. It gave me the cosmology that I have now.

Paul Smyth: Probably fairly more rounded view maybe than if you had just gone into computer engineering.

Coral Movasseli: For sure. A more well-rounded view, definitely.

Girls In Tech Dublin

Paul Smyth: And you mentioned Girls in Tech, and can you tell us a bit about that, and the Girls in Tech in Ireland?

Coral Movasseli: Yes, I'd love to. Girls in Tech as an organization has been around for a long time. It started in San Francisco, in the Valley by Adriana Gascoigne, the current CEO and founder of Girls in Tech. I knew of Girls in Tech. They've been around for such a long time, over 13 years. I knew of them because they have a heavy presence in North America. It's a heavier presence. And when I came over to Ireland, I wanted to do something where ... I'd already been involved in a lot of community work, I've sat on boards and such like that for charities and not for profits. And I wanted to do something that was personal to me and that I understood. And that also would help someone in some way, if I could speak about my challenges.

Girls In Tech Dublin

Coral Movasseli: And I came across Girls in Tech and the opportunity to start the Irish component of Girls in Tech here. And I had no idea it was going to be what it is today. And Girls in Tech's mission is three fold. We are here to engage, empower and educate women in tech and female entrepreneurs. And the way we do that is by creating our own programs. In-house programs that we create. And sometimes they're created globally and we can then take it and we can like do it here in Ireland.

Coral Movasseli: And we create these programs that are there so that when women come to us and they leave, they have some knowledge, they have some insight, they have the tools they need. That's what we do. We want to make sure people leave with a sense of value out of our programs.

Coral Movasseli: One of the programs that I created here in Ireland is the Stepping Up Mentorship Program. It's a mentorship program that I launched at the Dublin Tech Summit two years ago and since then we've been running it fairly frequently. We have one coming up on November 21st at Huckletree here in Dublin. And what the program is there to do is to give women the knowledge and the tools and the access to the right people that they need, so that they can take control of their own careers and be successful.

Coral Movasseli: Because I think that's what it's all about, right? I think it's about taking control of your own career, taking control of your own life. If I had just gone down the trajectory that I thought was meant for me, I was destined for, I'd still be ... Because I started my career actually working for the foreign office in Canada, in Ottawa. I was working on international trade policy with our international diplomats abroad. And I would still be there. That's where I would be. There's nothing wrong with that. But I wouldn't be where I am now.

Paul Smyth: Do you think much has changed in terms of that perception, I suppose? You said if you knew then what you know now, you would have gone down the computer engineering route. But you didn't see that as an option at the time. Do you think that kind of perception or that lens is changing or has changed?

Coral Movasseli: I think it's better now than it was at the time. Like at the time, when I was applying for university, there was no Facebook. Facebook came out when I was in first year university. Nobody really knew what to do with the internet. We were still figuring it out. I think millennials figured out what to do with the internet. So that took some time.

Coral Movasseli: I think there's just a greater level of exposure and people have a greater level of exposure with technology. People have cell phones, right? People have smart phones, computers, all those things were luxury items.

Paul Smyth: It's more accessible now.

Coral Movasseli: Everyone has a cell phone now. I got a cell phone at the age of 14, and I don't even think you could text with it.

Coral Movasseli: And then the next one was like the flip phones and you could text. People were like, oh my God, they didn't know what to do with text.

Paul Smyth: And smaller was better.

Coral Movasseli: And smaller was better, and they were tiny.

Paul Smyth: It was a lot easier though back then wasn't it?

Coral Movasseli: It was a lot easier, yes.

Paul Smyth: Snake was really good.

Coral Movasseli: Snake, oh my God. That snake name? The Nokia.

Paul Smyth: Showing your age now.

Laura Smyth: Bring back the Nokia. You could literally bounce it off the ground and it never broke. It was unbreakable.

Coral Movasseli: It was unbreakable. 

Coral Movasseli: I heard they brought them back, like certain collection pieces. They were crazy, and people used to like, I don't know if you guys use the term here, but like soup them up.

Laura Smyth: Oh yes.

Coral Movasseli: They would have like lights, and there's a whole nother industry to souping up your phone.

Paul Smyth: Yes, change the colors and all that stuff. Ring tones, remember you could do a ringtone.

Laura Smyth: Ringtones, yes.

Coral Movasseli: Yes, because you couldn't do anything with those phones. So people just thought, hey let's accessorize them. But now there's so much on the software of the phone, you don't think about the ring tone and stuff. You're just occupied with so many other things.

Laura Smyth: Yes, that is true.

Girls In Tech - Coral Movasseli - Podcast Interview

Paul Smyth: I'm really interested in the diversity aspect in technology in particular. And do you think because technology is more accessible through phones, on Facebook, and internet and all that stuff, and there are more women now, still probably not enough, but there are more women going into technology and seeing that as other routes, do you think that's helping make it more accessible? Or making it a, I don't want to say realistic opportunity, but do you know what I mean? Women are seeing it as ...

Coral Movasseli: It's a funny one. Like has that translated into the numbers that we want to see? It hasn't. There are fewer women now studying computer science than 30 years ago. We know that, and these are in all the western countries. That hasn't changed. There are more women exposed to tech or in tech companies, but they're not technical.

Coral Movasseli: I think for a lot of women that come to us, they want to become technical. They want to be a data scientist. Like maybe they studied marketing and marketing is a heavily analytical subject. They want to know how to switch to data science and they don't know how. Or they want to get into web design because they are very artistic. They just don't know how to or they feel like maybe it's too late for them.

Coral Movasseli: So there is a bit of how do we help the women now are knowledgeable, who are exposed to tech, who understand the benefits of technology and what that could bring, the impact it can have. How do we get them to transition into more technical roles? Because you don't need to go back to school and do four years of computer science to be a coder. You don't need to go back to school and study statistics for four years, and then get a master's in stats to be a data scientist, to do machine learning.

Coral Movasseli: You don't need to do any of that. Obviously you need a certain level of comprehension in maths, but it's a basic comprehension. That is still a myth that we're trying to debunk. And I found that greatly so when we ran the Hackathon.

Coral Movasseli: We have a hackathon program with Girls in Tech. It's a global program called Hacking for Humanity. And we work with local charities to find their business challenges, and then we present those business challenges to the hackers to find digital solutions. And here we brought the Hackathon over this spring. And it was the first Hackathon for women in Ireland. And I did not know that when I started working on the Hackathon program like a year in advance to bring the program here. And I was like, oh my God, like there is no precedent. So how do we know this is going to work? And I was told by countless people, to how are you going to fill the room? Luckily we sold out.

Paul Smyth: You did fill it, yes.

Coral Movasseli: We did fill it. We sold out.

Laura Smyth: I attended.

Coral Movasseli: You attended, yes!

Laura Smyth: It was amazing. It was so, so enjoyable.

Laura Smyth: I was buzzed after, really was.

Coral Movasseli: But to be honest with you, we had a hard time with marketing that program. With our mentorship program, we did not have any trouble. Even the first time I launched Girls in Tech, I wasn't from Ireland, I only knew Owen, I launched Girls in Tech six months or a few months after landing in Ireland. We sold out. The room was packed. We had Silicon Republic cover. Like we had a reporter from Silicone Republic cover the whole launch. We were mentioned in The Independent, the Times.

Coral Movasseli: But the Hackathon was really hard. It was such a huge challenge. And I honestly thought every single day it was very stressful, I thought it was going to fail, because to be honest with you, it was a hard sell. Because we had to convince women that they could do it. We had to debunk all these myths that they had, all of the softer issues of why women are not getting into technical roles, and studying the hard sciences. We had to overcome those. We had to try to convince them. We had to try to overcome those barriers because we kept getting asked, well, I'm not a coder. Why should I go to a Hackathon?

Paul Smyth: So I was in the professional women's network in [State street 00:00:15:52] when I was there for a couple of years. And one of the things that always came up was around how job specs are written, on how job adverts are written. And I can't remember the percentage, but it's a fairly high percentage that women need to see that they tic a box on the spec before they'll actually apply. Whereas men just have a tendency to say, let's have all the applications.

Coral Movasseli: Yes, totally.

Paul Smyth: So it sounds like it was similar for the Hackathon.

Coral Movasseli: Similar. Yes. Similar. And we have to face all those challenges because we had to pave the way. And I'm glad we got it over. We went way above the line in the end in terms of the outcome and the impact we created. And I hope that sent a signal, and it has, because I'm seeing more women Hackathons popping up in Ireland that hey, this is possible. Hey, you can do this. You need to be exposed to it. Because afterwards people were crying. I don't know if you remember, I don't know if you watch some people's faces, but some people came up to me and they were in tears. They were like, this is the most amazing thing. I didn't know that I could do this. I had no idea. And I just thought, yes, that's what we want to do.

Coral and team

Laura Smyth: The energy was amazing. I'm still in touch with some of the girls that were there. It was a huge success. Hugely successful. So, well done.

Coral Movasseli: Thank you. But yes, it had a lot of challenges. You'd never tell.

Laura Smyth: I couldn't tell.

Paul Smyth: Being part of that kind of global Girls in Tech ecosystem or organization, where do you think Ireland is at the minute, in terms of women in tech in general. And how far of a journey do we have to go on?

Coral Movasseli: So there is how do we define women in tech. And the aspect of it is who is collecting this data and who is measuring this. So there are some academic studies that have been measuring the number of women in certain degrees, and in Ireland relative to other countries. Ireland doesn't trail ahead. It trails behind in certain subjects, in the technical aspects, in computer science it does. But that's not abnormal. That's a western problem.

Coral Movasseli: When we get into the anecdotal side, into the qualitative side that isn't in these studies, because these are international studies. When I go and speak to the head of engineering at this university and at that university, and they tell me, okay, we have less than 20% of our women in the engineering programs. We have less than 20% of women in our engineering program. That's fairly normal across the scales, across Ireland, and in other western countries.

Coral Movasseli: And then I go, okay, where are these women coming from? They're mostly foreign. So that's the qualitative side, right? So are Irish women studying computer science or are going to engineering? Not as much. And even with having that foreign representation of women in these programs, it's still below the line. And it's a western problem, because we need to look at the qualitative side, right? Because as societies become more egalitarian, there is actually a correlation ...

Paul Smyth: Correlation, I love it.

Coral Movasseli: No pun intended. Shameless promotion of my name.

Coral Movasseli: Yes, there is a correlation between an egalitarian society and the number of women studying STEM or in technical roles.

Coral Movasseli: If we look at the qualitative side, and again, background, social sciences, what helps me understand this is that, well you have more freedom, you have more choices. And if you can study anything you want, and women want to study things where they see that it has an impact in the world, it can do good, and they don't see how studying the technical, how studying engineering can help them benefit the world, how they can use that as a tool and how they can leverage up, they're not going to study that. It's not because they're not capable. Because the study shows that women in Ireland and in other western countries score just as high, if not higher on math scores when they're in school, relative to boys.

Coral Movasseli: So it's not that they're not good at math. They are. Actually women tend to be better in reading comprehension test. They surpass the boys, but they're still good at math. So it's not a capability thing, it's an interest thing. And it's an understanding thing. It's an exposure thing. again, it goes back to my story, right? I did not understand how, and I was not exposed to how this subject could help me impact the world. I did not understand it.

Laura Smyth: Yes. Very interesting.

Paul Smyth: I have two questions.

Laura Smyth: Yes, go for it.

How To Get More Women Into The Tech Sector

Paul Smyth: One is to get more women into technology, there's a lot of pieces to that puzzle. If you had to pick one as being critical and being kind of a game-changer, what would that be? And also, if we do get more women into technology, what's the value in that? Why are we trying to do this?

Coral Movasseli: Okay. So there's two parts of that question. Like what can we do to get more women?

Paul Smyth: What's the one big thing. And I know there's loads.

Coral Movasseli: If there was one big thing to get more women in technology, I think it's exposing them to it. Things like Hackathons, right? Things where it becomes tangible to them at a really young age. So that will then get more girls interested in technology and working with technology, and seeing what it can do.

Coral Movasseli: And that will then create a new culture of tech where it doesn't ostracize girls, because right now it's still very much heavily on people who are gamers. Oh, and girls who are gamers are more likely to study computer science or engineering. You know, gamers, comic book readers, boys, it's very much a boy culture. So you are ostracized from it. There's not girl elements in that. There's not feminine elements. So we need more girls to be interested in it, so then the culture expands, and there's now a new culture, a more cohesive and welcoming culture.

Coral Movasseli: So that I think, is exposure and working with girls. So like last year we collaborated with Sage Technologies from England and we ran a workshop where we helped girls and boys. So it was youth. And we had some people from disadvantaged areas to build an AI Chatbot. And many of them, most of them, 90% had never coded, didn't even know what a syntax was. And they built an AI Chatbot at the end of it. And they were super excited about it. And then the parents got excited, because then these kids are telling their parents. And we had them showcase what they created at the end. And then the parents are excited because they didn't know what that was. They just heard like, workshop on a weekend, okay great. I'm going to put my kids in this, get some time off.

Coral Movasseli: But then they were like, Oh that's what an AI Chatbot is. That's what that means. And their kids are explaining it to them, and they were excited.

Laura Smyth: Demystified it then.

Coral Movasseli: Demystified it, exactly. And then they understood what it meant on a tangible level. And I think it's exposure, but it's not just about talking about it, because when you talk to people under a certain age, they don't understand what all these things are. These are like jargon, adult jargon. You don't know what this means. It's get them to work on it, get them to have that level of exposure. So there needs to be more happening in the schools for that to happen, because it's not going to come from the parents. That's going to take a long, long, long time.

Coral Movasseli: But the research does show that if your parents come from STEM, you are more likely to go and study STEM. But we can't wait until that happens naturally. It's going to take a really, really long time. So I think that would be useful. And that's also I'm reflecting on when I was a kid, what would have made a difference from me? And what have I seen through my experience with running Girls in Tech in Ireland? What have I seen work? Right?

Coral Movasseli: And then your other question was ... there was a second part.

Paul Smyth: What's the value in getting more women into technology? We did diversity inclusion reports at the start of this year. We launched it through FuSIoN and with that, we had about, I know, a hundred people in State Street. It was great. But a lot of what we talk about when we talk about DNI or IND, is what's the business case? So if you're an employer, everyone talks about diversity inclusion and we're constantly asked for 50/50 candidate slates, male and female, very hard in technology. But if you're sitting there in a business, running a business in Ireland, a technology business, where a business would have tech, and you know that you need to do something, but why do you need to do it? What's the point of getting more women in technology?

Coral Movasseli: Yes. I actually really like that question because I hate most of the answers I hear. I'll tell you most of the answers I hear, which you know, you may have heard as well, which is it's good for your business. It's really good for your business to get more women into your workforce. You can then create innovative products because then you have different perspectives.

Coral Movasseli: And those are all tactical and superficial answers. I hate those answers because that's not why you should be doing it. That's ridiculous, because at some point you're going to be like, well, it's not economically beneficial for my company to have women, so I'm just going to get rid of it. I'm not going to care anymore. Whenever it becomes too hard for you.

Coral Movasseli: That's not why you should do it. Yes, those are outcomes that you will have, having different perspectives, a better cohesive culture. There is a difference between the feminine and the masculine. Right? Women tend to be more collaborative. We tend to bring people behind us. We're better at creating teams. Right?

Coral Movasseli: So there are a lot of benefits you get, but that's not why you should do it. You should do it because at a very high level, at a very aggregate level, it's about helping society. It's about creating cohesive societies. It's about communities. It's about building better communities where you're engaging 50% of the population into what you're doing. That's what it's about.

Coral Movasseli: And I have not heard a company give me that answer once. It's all been the bottom line. And I know that they're not really interested in diversity and inclusion because they don't really get it. It's a checkbox exercise. And I'm sorry but checkbox exercises? Well one day this is not going to be a sexy topic anymore.

Coral Movasseli: This is going to lapse. And when that does then that those efforts and that pool of money to try to get more women into their companies and to get interested in tech, that's going to stop. But we can't have that. We want to keep this going. This is to engage 50%. You cannot disengage half the population. This is what it's about, because the societies that we've created can not continue. We don't run an egalitarian society anymore, where women stay at home, have children, are in the kitchen. That doesn't exist anymore. We need to have two working people. So that's what it's about.

Advice For Women Starting Out In Tech

Paul Smyth: Great. Really, really interesting. Coral, I know you touched on it a good bit earlier. When you have a woman coming to you for advice on how to start a career in technology, you mentioned that you don't necessarily have to take that linear trajectory. What advice would you give to a woman starting out?

Coral Movasseli: When they're in high school?

Paul Smyth: When they've already ... So if they're younger, I know you mentioned, you talked about the exposure piece, but for somebody who's already gone through the, I suppose education, they've already started a career in something but want to take a career change into technology.

Coral Movasseli: I think the first step, the first immediate step, and this is for any sort of transitions in your life, is get to know as much as you can about what you think you might be interested in. Don't just go into tech because you think, oh, everyone's talking about tech now and I got to be in tech, and that's where the money is. It's like, no, no, no, no, no. Hold on a minute. Then maybe it's not the right path for you. Understand as much as you can about it.

Coral Movasseli: The good thing these days is that there's a lot more resources now than there was when I was younger. You have all these apps like Meetup. Yes, it's just everything has progressed. So the access to information and knowledge is more readily available. And what I would say is don't read about it as much. Go out there and meet people in tech. Go to tech conferences. There are so many tech conferences just in Dublin alone. There's Dublin Tech Summit. There was South Stock, which is really amazing. There's just so many. I was at Predict Conference. There's a Woman in Tech Conference. I don't know, there's just so many. There's Inspire Fires. There's so many places you can go to get acquainted with tech in different ways, right?

Coral Movasseli: I say get to know as much about it so that you understand what that means and then speak to people in the industry who are in different roles in tech. And understand what those roles look like, what they require. And then if you think you're interested in any of those things, then look at your own background and see what you can already leverage.

Coral Movasseli: So if you studied, for example, economics, maybe look at data science as a route. Maybe you're a very analytical person, and see how you can take a crash course. There's so many bootcamps in Europe especially, and in the US. Six months boot camps, and you can become a data scientist for example.

Coral Movasseli: Yes. There's so many of these transitional educational institutions that have popped up. So I would say then take that leap and make a plan. Make a longterm plan of what that's going to look like. But the first step is get to know people, actually understand what that means and where you fit in.

Paul Smyth: Yes, planning is ... If you listen to our podcast, it comes up every single episode. I don't think enough people take enough time, male or female, to think about what they actually want to do longer term and how what they're doing now fits into that. Yes, planning is good.

Coral Movasseli: Yes, and I think there's no, even if you're in your thirties or your forties or whatever, even if you're fifties, it's never too late. I remember when I was in my early twenties, I was thinking of things I wanted to do, but I'm like, oh, it's too late, now. And now I Look back, I'm like, oh my God, what was I thinking? There's this constant voice in our head that tells us is too late. This is ridiculous. It's never too late.

Paul Smyth: And it's okay to make a mistake.

Coral Movasseli: It's okay to make mistakes and to have this detour. You only learn more. You only become a more well rounded person. The one thing I have learned, 100%, is sometimes you need to go slower to go faster.

Laura Smyth: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much. That was absolutely fantastic, Coral. If anyone wants to get in touch with you or the team, what should they do?

Coral Movasseli: Yes, they can go to our website, They can find us on Twitter at @gitdublin. We're on Facebook, we're on Instagram. There are so many opportunities to get in touch with us. And you can come to the next mentorship program that we're running. It's an evening commitment and I commend everyone to come in and go because it's amazing.

Laura Smyth: Brilliant. Thank you so much.

Coral Movasseli: Yes, Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Paul Smyth: Thanks Coral.

Coral Movasseli: Thank you.

Need Help?

If you want any information or are interested in one of our roles in the Fintech and financial services industry, get in touch with us at Top Tier Recruitment.

Check out our podcast and, if there's ever anything that you would like discussed, feel free to get in touch,