Tech and gender, a multicultural struggle

It was in the midst of lockdown that Amalia Salle, choreographer, and Xuan-Vi Tran, known as “Vi”, developer, decided to create VibZ, an app to learn how to dance with choreographers from all over the world. A challenge that combines creativity, inclusion and accessibility. Meet Vi who will be speaking at our EQUALS EU Hackathon on gender equality in tech.

Missions Publiques. How did this project come about?
Xuan-Vi Tran. The idea was not mine, but Amalia’s. I was working in an advertising and marketing agency and at the same time I was taking dance classes with Amalia, my choreographer at the time. A few years later we opened a dance studio, but Covid-19 came along and turned all our plans upside down. So, we decided to launch an app that would allow people to dance with their choreographer at their side from home: all in augmented reality.
This idea comes from the fact that many people want to dance with choreographers who are often not in the same country and live in capital cities. Accessibility to these social classes is not a given, and in this sense, the app is a way to break down geographical barriers but also economic ones as it allows dancers to be close to their teachers without having to pay for a train or plane ticket to reach them.
Today, half of our users are French-speaking and come from France and Belgium, and the other half come from foreign countries: Russians, Indians, Americans and Brazilians.
Missions Publiques. You say that the app is a “way of breaking geographical and economic barriers”. It was a risky bet. How is the app inclusive?
Xuan-Vi Tran. If it is indeed a step forward in terms of access, it is also a way to break down psychological barriers. When you go to a dance class, you find yourself in front of large mirrors, people you don’t know, who scrutinise every move you make in order to repeat the same gestures. Even if sometimes we miss the human contact through digital, the app allows us to restore our self-confidence and to assert our identity as we wish. Many of the young people who have installed the app cannot assert their identity publicly, whether they are young boys who want to dance in heels or girls who want to dance in a so-called “ghetto” or “underground” way… They can do so without judgement, without fear of others’ gaze and in a totally safe environment, without fear of the judgement or aggressions they may face outside. I’ve noticed recently that I don’t see as many people in the studio anymore and people often say to me: “I can’t stand to be so close to many people, I can’t stand the intimacy anymore”. Even if we tend to lose human contact, we find it elsewhere, and we find other ways to build connections. We need to foster inclusion and adaptability to drive and power innovation today.

"I want to see the power of diversity at work and to see that decision-making can be healthy.

Xuan-Vi Tran

Developer – VibZ application

Missions Publiques. You will be speaking as an expert at our hackathon on gender equality in tech on March 5th. What do you expect from this?
Xuan-Vi Tran. It is a promise of real exchanges of codes, ways of doing things and visions. Women often wonder if they are legitimate. The image of the woman in a high-level position was not something that was displayed a lot in my family, and I want to give participants of this hackathon the message that we should not be ashamed of wanting to do things differently from what we have known in our culture and education.
The hackathon is also an opportunity for everyone to assert their identity through their hard skills of course but also through their soft skills. The time constraint of the hackathon will be a bit stressful, and the winning teams will necessarily be the ones that will have called upon organisational and human qualities. I want to see the power of diversity at work and to see that decision-making can be healthy.
Missions Publiques. You are a graduate of Epitech (IT and digital professions), which launched an Observatory on the feminisation of digital professions. What is your opinion on this subject?
Xuan-Vi Tran. Today, only 37% of female high school students plan to go to a computer science or engineering school. When I went to Epitech, there were barely ten girls for every 500 boys at the beginning of the year, and at the end of the course there were three girls for every 300 boys.
One of the main reasons for this failure has to do with our representations of computer-engineering and the people who do it. The computer professions are incredibly stereotyped: the geek guy with glasses and acne behind his desk, behind his screen playing video games is an image to which we have all been subjected. But this has nothing to do with IT jobs!
When people ask me: “which woman has inspired you in the tech world?”, I am unable to answer because only men’s names come to mind. I have also known women who have held great responsibilities in the tech world but who never considered themselves as such because they were “project managers” and not developers. However, it’s a whole engineering process to know how to manage teams, communicate, etc. We need to communicate as much as possible about the tech professions, beyond the gender issue: IT is not just about making lines of code. It also involves data, management and project engineering.
But I repeat, this is not just a women’s struggle or a gender issue. It’s a multicultural struggle and not just for an elite. If the same profiles still run the tech world, we won’t get very far. To be creative in tech, you have to be open-minded and exchange with as many points of view as possible. It’s also more fun to talk to people who have totally opposite views and perspectives to ours. As we see at VibZ, it’s always when team members disagree that we end up with an innovative idea to show to the market. And that goes for both tech and all other topics.
Tech jobs are not just for white men. Let’s not get stuck in patterns and codes. These are jobs for everyone, non-gender people and all genders.

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