South America is disadvantaged by a daunting gender gap in digital skills.
As of 2019, the female participation rate in the labor force remains low compared to men, at 52% versus 76.7% respectively. Making matters worse, the rate of growth of their participation since the early 2000s is slowing, especially in more vulnerable groups of women. All this is against a background of women earning an average 17% less per hour than men.
In an increasingly technological world, which is on a digitalization journey fueled by the COVID-19 epidemic, we still see that gender still is a discriminating factor. Studies show that this will affect future career choices and professional development in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), from early ages. Additionally, as information and communications technology professionals are (and will) be in high demand in an increasingly digital world, so this gender-based occupational segmentation poses a threat to Latin American innovation and economic potential. For example, considering only IT networking jobs in Latam, IDC predicted that by the end of last year we would see an estimated shortage of around half a million professionals in the market.
Fortunately, we are seeing the birth of programs dedicated to decreasing the deficit of skilled STEM workers — and women are at the forefront. Two programs are leading the way here in Chile: Laboratoria, a successful program that has trained over 7,000 women in web development and UX design across the continent, and Kodea. The latter is fostering opportunities for women, and people with limited access to education, by creating and developing programs that teach new skills in computer science and IT.
From these organizations, BCG Platinion identified three promising students and offered them internships. They took on responsibility for adding tangible value to our company and our clients’ digital transformations, whilst developing their technical skills in programming.
These students joined our inaugural programme, CO:DE, which is a social impact initiative set up by BCG Platinion in SSA (Spanish South America). Its objective is to help foster the inclusion of women in technology, and promote social mobility. The outcome aims to be a pilot program that can fast-track the development of digital skills to prepare women for a career in technology.
Phase I: Getting ready to CO:DE!
Whilst the end goal would expose our new colleagues to a live project, the first phase introduced them to the framework and language of common technology stacks, our Agile way of working and owning workstreams.
Phase II: Solving a green challenge
But this was not going to be any ordinary kind of classroom exercise. We intentionally built the programme to ensure that everything our participants learned across the fields IT architecture, Agile development and design would address a real-world challenge. In this case, we examined how we could efficiently reduce the carbon footprint for BCG’s office in Santiago and all the companies that occupy the three tower complex with us.
Despite the country’s government commitment to improve recycling infrastructure tenfold, in offices around the capital we find little except recycling of cans, cardboard and paper (not glass or plastic). Bearing in mind the commitment of international companies to offset carbon emissions, the challenge is exacerbated by a lack of data.
So the goal of the first project was to encourage wider recycling in the business park by creating awareness of the impact tenants are having on the local environment, for better or worse.
The team’s solution was to design and build a platform that could help the tower’s administration log waste data from multiple companies, generate automated reports for each tenant and provide plugin dashboards that would track their progress and measure carbon offsetting.
What started as an internal initiative has now become the stepping stone to improve the business park’s approach to waste management
With this kind of data at our disposal, BCG has now started designing initiatives and measuring the impact of our own efforts. Meanwhile the project has dramatically reduced the operational burden on janitors, who no longer need to manually input data and create spreadsheets for each company obliged to report on their recycling efforts.
What started as an internal initiative, designed to generate awareness, has now become the stepping stone to improve the business park’s approach to waste management. The scalability of this initiative is high, and future software iterations will allow us to gamify the programme between tenants.
Phase III: Building a bot for one of the largest retailers in the world
With a base understanding of app development, the second phase of the programme focused on a project to enhance the customer experience for the Chilean operation of one of the largest retailers in the world.
The challenge was no easy task; building a virtual assistant with the potential to serve 50,000 employees and collaborators, using the latest in natural language processing technologies and cloud architecture… in only eight weeks!
The result was a functional chatbot, equipped with the technology and supported by a team able to adapt to new demands remotely and securely (highly valuable in light of the current world health crisis).
Naturally, it was not without hurdles. In terms of ownership, whilst we helped set the foundation, our client needed a solution that could evolve to add more use cases once handed over.
But most importantly, the client has helped us prove that social impact initiatives — especially those that encourage women to take up technology roles — can result in creative and innovative ideas that have real-world benefits.
With a DDP approach, innovation teams can experiment with start-up technologies in multiple composable sub-systems over time, exposing key pockets of value.
What Is a Digital Platform?
As for our first cohort: they were able to prove the impact that hard work, diversity and trust can have on digital disruption and new ways of working. Having graduated from our CO:DE academy, they are now actively looking for junior positions in software development, UX and product design.
We sincerely hope this experience will encourage organizations and industries to guarantee that innovation and progress happens in the right way. We also hope to inspire other women to find their voice in STEM, and shrink the gender skills gap in Latin America.