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Ukraine’s Special Force: Women in Tech Helping The Industry Stay Resilient

While the number of Ukrainian women in the country’s tech industry is yet to match that of the men, they are making their presence felt. 
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As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its sixth month, with each passing day the pressure on many industries and businesses in the country is getting bigger and bigger. And while the IT and tech industry is no exception, so far it has managed to stay resilient, mostly due to companies relocating their employees in safer regions of the country or to different countries.

In turn, this has resulted with the increase of Ukraine’s IT exports by 28 percent in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same time in the previous year, as well as a record $2 billion in export earnings for the country during the same period. 

While the number of Ukrainian women in the country’s tech industry is yet to match that of the men, they are making their presence felt. 

At the moment, the total workforce of the Ukrainian IT sector is estimated to be around 300 thousand, and around 24 percent of them are women. The involvement of women in the Ukrainian tech industry tripled in the last few years but women are still accounting for only 8 percent of the developers with larger representations in other business units (HR, design, product, and project management). 

Ukrainian women now also account for the majority of the emigration wave that has hit the country following the war, and are beginning to move the industry forward with the help of organizations and communities supporting women in tech.

One of them is Wtech, a community of women in tech which currently has more than 4,000 members. Founded in 2018 by entrepreneurs Viroslava Novosylna and Viktoriya Tigipko, Wtech is present in 12 Ukrainian cities, including severely hit cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv, and also in Berlin and London. 

Now, the community is also expanding the geography and launching Wtech in other countries to support participants who fled the war in countries such as Cyprus, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, France and the US.  Their goal is to help Ukrainian women  adapt and find new networks and job opportunities.

Making sure the economy doesn’t fall apart

For Novosylna, who is also leading the communications agency for tech business SLOVA Tech PR, while authorities and the Ukrainian military are doing their best to defend the country, now it is up to the rest to make sure that the Ukrainian economy doesn’t fall apart.

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Our state spends enormous resources to defend our land and our right to freedom. That’s why we must, more than ever, act as much as possible to develop the economy.  This manifests itself in many ways: many women have taken management positions, developing new company offices overseas and fundraising. The war was our catalyst for action and we are ready for this challenge,” Novosylna tells The Recursive

This difficult challenge includes working 24/7 and taking on many hats under the most severe of circumstances, Novosylna explains. 

“We are all working 24/7 now, regardless of gender. We no longer have days off or holidays – personal and even state. We all met Independence Day at our workplaces and to the roar of sirens.  But that doesn’t stop us. Of course, it’s very difficult personally. Because now we have several jobs at once. The main one is volunteering and supporting Ukraine by operating our businesses and paying taxes. More money we can earn – more money we can donate to the needs of the Armed Forces,” she says. 

In the long run, Novosylna’s expectations are that Ukraine is definitely going to see a boom in startups after the war ends, especially in sectors such as the development of drones, cybersecurity, distance learning, and medtech among others. 

“For example, Alphabet just recently announced investments in 16 promising Ukrainian startups within the framework of the $5 million Google for Startups Ukraine Support Fund initiative.  Many of these companies are pioneers in their solutions. For example, Esper Bionics is a startup in the field of prosthetics using the latest technology. Or Liki24, an aggregator of low-cost drug delivery from pharmacies, which is gradually expanding into more and more European markets.  There is also Awesomic, which helps customers and designers find each other in 24 hours, also co-founded by a woman, Stacy Pavlyshyna,” Novosylna tells The Recursive.

Thirty-year-old Anna Tian is among the IT professionals that left the capital of Kyiv shortly after the war and is now working with “People for People”, a foundation that helps Ukrainians and people from different nationalities find a safe refuge and asylum in the Netherlands.

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According to Tian, under the current circumstances Ukrainian women have proven to be Ukraine’s “special strength”, especially at times when some Ukrainian cities lost almost all of their IT industry and capacities.

For instance, the city of Kharkiv endured the biggest economical losses. Prior to the war, it was the second-largest ICT center after Kyiv with more than 45,000 workers and more than 500 companies. At its peak, Kharkiv lost around 90% of IT workers due to relocation, and due to the constant shelling of the city. Flagship IT companies are yet to resume their operations at full capacity.

“Women are very stress-resistant, therefore, in such difficult situations, women quickly adapt, and work, volunteering, and join projects with double strength. Moreover, in wartime conditions, when men cannot travel abroad, it is women who go to meetings with Western investors, pitch startups and technological products to them, and take on many important functions,” Tian tells The Recursive. 

Moreover, Ukrainian startups and technology companies have shown how productive they can be even working from bomb shelters, Tian emphasizes. 

“While the war is still going on in Ukraine, our people are getting even stronger, and technological projects are even cooler! But the world must remember that we still need support, because we are not in an equal position right now,” she adds.

Taking up work in vacated tech niches and reviving the sector

Companies such as the Ukraine IT HUB are among those that strive to bring different IT projects to Ukrainian engineers who need the flexibility to balance work with the realities of war. 

Oksana Basova is the company’s chief business analyst, and according to her, in the current situation women need to continue to actively take up the vacated niches in tech industries and keep supporting the country’s economy.

While the beginning of the war came as a shock for most in the industry, what followed meant that everyone had to do their part in trying to overcome the difficult situation and focus on reviving the country’s economy, Basova says.

“Many of my IT friends combined volunteering with their main job and after a working day went to volunteer centers to help. However, the situation at the front did not improve, which provoked the next round – apathy and disappointment. Disappointment in moral values and foundations. I am glad that many companies started to provide the help of qualified psychologists on a free basis, which helped employees cope with emotions. Now we can only bite the bullet and continue working, thus supporting the country and waiting for our victory,” she tells The Recursive. 

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The Ukrainian IT industry also has a big role in showcasing what the country can do on a global scale, and Basova is confident that all of this will help the country’s recovery after the war. 

“Moreover, thanks to volunteer tech and digital projects that started at the beginning of the war, entire communities of talented specialists were born, who also began to engage in commercial projects. A striking example is our company – UAITHub. Ukrainian IT has long gone beyond the borders of the country, and after the war its development will have increased significantly and continue to grow at the international level,” Basova points out.

Ksenia Oliinyk is head of marketing at blockchain cyber security company 111PG (Points of Growth). Six month into the war, it is very hard to scare or surprise Ukrainians anymore, she says.

Therefore, Ukrainian women are now always ready for the unexpected since most have no idea about what to expect tomorrow or the day after. 

“All of us have forgotten what a vacation or holiday is right now. We have to work several jobs, move all the time and have no idea what to expect tomorrow. But we won’t stop working and developing,” Oliinyk tells The Recursive. 

According to her, now is also the time to develop many tech projects and companies, since the whole world is watching Ukraine right now. 

“The whole world is looking at us today, and while it’s a shame that it has come at such a price, we need to take advantage of this opportunity. The development of the Ukrainian tech sphere is just beginning, and this is the industry that has the biggest potential to support the country’s economy. So we have to make an effort: take an interest in the topic, develop it and help our country,” she concludes.

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https://therecursive.com/author/bojanstojkovski/

Bojan is The Recursive’s Western Balkans Editor, covering tech, innovation, and business for more than a decade. He’s currently exploring blockchain, Industry 4.0, AI, and is always open to covering diverse and exciting topics in the Western Balkans countries. His work has been featured in global media outlets such as Foreign Policy, WSJ, ZDNet, and Balkan Insight.
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