Afghanistan

”I hit the nail on the head when it comes to three things: Being an ethnic minority, being a woman, and working in the IT industry”

Afghanistan-born Giso has found her calling as a mentor for young minority women in the IT industry. Today, her cultural background is a useful tool in her work towards the digital empowerment of refugee and migrant women in the workspace.

“It was a mere coincidence that I ended up in Denmark. My father was going to have an operation in England, because he has been struggling with a liver disease his whole life. But he didn’t make it far. He couldn’t travel any further because his wounds had become aggravated. The plane landed in Denmark, and he stayed.

I arrived in Denmark in 2001 from Afghanistan. I was 6 years old when our family was reunited. Today, I am 26 years old. My family and I were placed in a small town together with thirty other Afghan families. Nothing much happened. Here, we lived our daily lives – we worked, we went to school, and I got my education.

Minority women are strong and skilled  
I have a university degree in IT.

Today, I work in a large tech company, IBM, who works together with the ReDi School of Digital Integration. The focus is to empower refugee and migrant women in the IT industry, so that they become better equipped for the digital workspace and can ultimately create a career in what has historically been a male dominated field. 

The minority women are skilled and strong-willed, and they have strong resumés. But they often don’t get far in the interview process.

Giso

I began mentoring because it appealed to me due to my own background. The ReDi School of Digital Integration is for women with a minority background who want to make it in the IT industry. I hit the nail on the head when it comes to three things: Being an ethnic minority, being a woman, and working in the IT industry, which is why it would be stupid of me to not use my own experiences to help these women! I can put myself in their shoes – maybe even more so than a mentor in the IT industry who isn’t an ethnic minority.

Primarily, I guide the women in building their IT skills, but the cultural barriers that can occur at a job interview or at work have also become a focus of my guidance. In Denmark, a focus on expressing your personality is much more valued, and this differs from a lot of other countries like India, Russia, Iran, and some Latin American countries. In those countries, you are expected to act much more professionally in a work setting.

That is why it is important for me to get to know the women – so I can help them feel comfortable sharing their personalities. This can only take place as part of a personal conversation. The minority women are skilled and strong-willed, and they have strong resumés. But they often don’t get far in the interview process, which is why they ask me: “Should I take on more courses? Should I study more?” I’ve realized that it is not their professional competences that are lacking, but instead it is the unsaid – the social norms – that you aren’t aware of in your first encounter with a new country and work culture.

With that in mind, the cultural barriers can be difficult to grasp at work. The fact that I have another cultural background has given me a broad cultural understanding, which is an advantage when working and developing relationships with these women.

“You speak Danish so well!” is a sentence I sometimes hear – usually charged with surprise. The rhetoric today has led me to interpret this sort of statement in a more negative way. Popular discourse often accuses refugees of merely being burdens to society. This hits me where it hurts, but despite the prejudice that you can experience as a minority woman in Denmark, it luckily hasn’t affected my life. I don’t want that to be my narrative."

Related stories