Technology has transformed our lives in unimaginable ways. What seems impossible in the past—such as communicating in real-time with people in other parts of the world—is now possible. Behind many of these technological developments are amazing women who have dedicated their efforts to making life better for their communities.
Take, for example, Koree Monteloyola. A web developer and tech and social entrepreneur, Koree has merged her love for information technology (IT) with her advocacy of making technology more inclusive for the elderly.
Koree is the founder of Kairos IT Services, an IT business focused on web and mobile apps development, digital marketing, and IT training. She is also the founder of Techie Senior Citizens and Retirees Philippines, an online support group that started in 2018 for the Filipino elderly and retirees to help improve their digital literacy skills. In 2021, Techie Seniors PH became one of the final recipients of Concentrix's You On The Rise Campaign. Through the Techie Seniors community, she was invited to become one of the first Canva ambassadors in the Philippines. She was also chosen as one of the 46 women social entrepreneurs from six ASEAN countries for Ashoka's DIWA online capacity building program.
She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Angelicum College and completed her Master in Information Systems from UP Open University. Apart from tech and social entrepreneurship, Koree is also a plant-based cook and is the creator of the website FoodWithPurpose.ph.
Below, Looking for Juan talks with the tech and social entrepreneur about her advocacy, projects, and experiences as a woman working in the IT industry.
Why did you choose to work in the IT industry?
My plan was really to become a teacher; fortunately, we had a female computer teacher in high school who cared enough to teach us how to make web pages (those years were the advent of Web 1.0). She saw that our group had the initiative and diligence to work on our tasks for our computer subject, so she sent us to a regional computer symposium. Because of these opportunities I experienced during my senior year in high school, I decided to take computer science in college instead of an education course. I was unaware of the gender gap in IT during that time. All that mattered to me was my keen interest in coding and my determination to be a programmer. I wouldn't be in this field today if not for my female computer teacher, who believed in us.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in your field? Did you ever think it would be less challenging/more complicated if you were male?
Yes, it would be less challenging for me if I were a man working as a programmer. In the early stages of my career, the biggest obstacle was figuring out how to strategically excel, socialize, and protect myself in the workplace as a woman. I was part of development/programming teams, which were usually 80 percent men and 20 percent women. The gender gap was really wide, and issues on inclusion and diversity were expected.
There were also these unspoken rules like female programmers should dress "properly" and not wear too much make-up, or she won't be taken seriously. In terms of mentoring, women can get caught in the web of office politics and suffer in isolation due to a lack of support/training from the right people in the office. Gender discrimination in the workplace comes in different forms like being paid less, harassment, or being evaluated at a different/higher standard.
The IT industry has evolved drastically in the last two decades, and I'm glad that women in STEM are in a better environment nowadays.
What are the advantages of being a woman in your field? Alternately, what kind of prejudices, if any, did you have to face, and how did you overcome these?
One of the advantages of being a woman in IT is the opportunity to reframe the narrative about women and girls in STEM. We have the chance to prove to others that the myths and misperceptions about us are not true. I had to deal with gender discrimination. It was tough sometimes, but when everyone sees your effort and ability to reinvent yourself to deliver what's necessary for the project and the team, everything eventually falls into place.
How did being a woman help you progress as an I.T. professional? Did you have any realizations from your years of being a female IT professional?
I was the first female programmer to be hired in the IT department of a local print publishing company. I loved working there because the office culture promoted gender equality. I worked hard and focused on what was important. I made sure that I was contributing to our team. Eventually, they hired more female programmers after me as our department grew. Women are known to be nurturing; we can show the world that we're not just dutiful to our families but also with the career that we have chosen or jobs entrusted to us.
In your opinion, which changes are needed in the country's IT industry to be more inclusive of women?
Women can only thrive in a supportive environment. This means making sure that the team is diverse and that the human resources department supports women's rights and conducts regular training on avoiding gender discrimination in the workplace. The institution's corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns should also address social issues about women. Women mentoring other women in the workplace should be encouraged. Provide equal leadership or skills training opportunities to women. Lastly, men should be women's allies.
What projects or organizations are you currently working on? How does being a woman make a difference?
Currently, I'm the founder of Kairos IT Services and Techie Senior Citizens and Retirees PH, also the creator of FoodWithPurpose.ph. For Kairos, I'm the lead web developer. For Techie Seniors, I'm one of the community managers, and we promote digital inclusion for the Filipino elderly. For Food With Purpose, If I have time, I share allergy-friendly/plant-based recipes for people with food sensitivities like me.
Being a woman means a lot for gender representation in the IT field and for the Filipino elderly. We sometimes find ourselves as the extreme users—in design thinking, this means the people who are hardest to solve for. What makes us special as women are our stories of courage. Our stories can empower or inspire other women, families, friends, colleagues, or strangers, which eventually will lead to transformational change.
If you had the option to advise young girls wanting to pursue IT, what would that be? What is your message for women in general?
Be still and know thyself. Stay curious, learn to ask the right questions, and be honest in answering these questions. Learn design thinking and systems change.
Who you are right now may not be enough to reach your goal, but if you have self-respect, if you believe and invest in yourself, and if you find the right community, you will get there. Be an expert in your field. Know your purpose. Give back to the community—purpose before prestige.
We still have a lot of work to do to achieve gender equality. Let's support each other. Empowered women, empower other women.