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How the 'Sheryl Sandberg of Mexico' is inspiring women in tech

Blanca Trevino of Softtek offers one of the most competitive training and certification programs among IT companies in Mexico.
Source: Softtek

If you think the glass ceiling for women in tech is tough in the United States, take a look at the challenges they face in Mexico, Latin America and other developing countries. For many the obstacles may seem insurmountable, but not for Blanca Trevino, the co-founder, president and CEO of Softtek, a Mexican unicorn that is the largest IT vendor in Latin America.

Since founding Softtek in 1982, Trevino has helped build a far-flung global empire that offers application software development, security and other IT solutions to more than 300 corporations in more than 20 countries. And it generates more than $500 million in annual revenue. This she and her partners accomplished without venture capital, by bootstrapping and plowing all profits back into the company to foster growth.

At the same time, she has worked hard to elevate women in the IT workplace and has proved to be a role model for those looking for leadership roles in a male-dominated industry. A board member of Wal-Mart Mexico and the prominent Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), her success formula is simple: "Don't focus on the obstacles you face, but focus on the skills and talents you bring to the field. It's all about mind-set."

That wisdom is sorely needed when you consider gender gap in computing jobs has gotten worse in the last 30 years, even as computer science job opportunities expand rapidly, according to new research from Accenture and Girls Who Code. In 1984, 37 percent of computer science majors in the United States were women, but that number dropped to 18 percent in 2014, according to the study. The computing industry's rate of U.S. job creation is three times the national average, but if trends continue, the study estimates that women will hold only 20 percent of computing jobs by 2025.

In Latin America the situation is worse, experts say. While 44 percent of all science positions — including social sciences — in the region are held by women, they are underrepresented in science, technology and engineering, according to UNESCO.

Trevino has witnessed the trend since her humble beginnings. Back in the mid-'80s it was very uncommon for women in Mexico to go to college and work in the IT field. But the tide is shifting. Now the graduating class of information technology majors at ITESM are 35 percent to 40 percent women, she says, adding, "One thing that's changed is that there are female role models — such as Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook — who have been able to make it. This gives women confidence they too can succeed."

Today women make up about 14 percent of executive-level jobs in the technology industry, according to the Anita Borg Institute. The organization says women are frequently pushed into softer technical roles that rarely lead to senior and executive positions.

The best advice Trevino can give to aspiring women looking to launch a technology start-up?

1. Start by developing a big idea and commit to it.

2. Don't spend time thinking about obstacles; instead, focus on your strengths.

3. Find great partners. It is easier to start a business if you share your dream with someone else. As a woman who often has to juggle work and family, having a support system can help you boost the odds of your success.