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Getting the girls into IT

I’m a bit upset. No, more than upset, I’m worried too. A recent survey of young people aged 11 to 18 suggested that 47% think the technology sector is more suited to men.

I’m a woman who’s spent her whole career in IT, and I’ve got one question for these young people – why? What makes you think that? Is it stereotyping, careers advice, role models, skills, or is it the image of the IT industry?

The survey is disappointing, but there’s no point denying that there is a gender gap in IT employment. Only 17% of the UK’s IT professionals are women and let’s not forget we make up slightly more than half the population. We’ve got a long way to go, and preconceptions about what the industry is like, and lack of knowledge about the many varied opportunities doesn’t help. But I can’t be too critical of our youngsters – I am willing to admit that as a schoolgirl, I had precious little idea of how my career would develop.

I’ve been working in the sector for over 25 years. I spent ten years with Cable and Wireless working on improvement initiatives and 13 years ago, I set up Urban IT Solutions. I knew I had the skills to help small and medium enterprises sort their IT and get on with running their businesses. Urban IT has gone from strength to strength. It’s growing, but we don’t look at gender when we recruit. We look at ability and attitude. Gender is irrelevant. I only wish more of our young women and girls believed that their abilities and attitude could take then anywhere.

A change in perspective

I’m not a big fan of attempts to define men and women, but I’m going to break my own rules and suggest that, in general, women can be better organised, more empathetic and more supportive. These life skills are highly valuable in industry – all industries – including IT.

Perhaps If we phrased things differently, the industry would appear more attractive. Let’s rebrand a career in technology as a career in problem solving. Let’s emphasise the softer skills of communication and organisation, and the collaborative approach. Let’s change our perspective slightly from cabling, data, coding and protocols to improving business processes and making operations more efficient and effective, because that, when we really look at it, is what a career in IT is all about.

Promoting awareness

We have a skills shortage in our industry and we simply cannot afford to ignore half of our population in the drive to plug the gap. Technology is now all-pervasive in the life of children of both sexes, but somehow, somewhere, girls are getting the wrong message. They don’t realise that a fantastic and diverse career is available to them.

A quick look at the internet will show you that there are several organisations aimed at encouraging young girls to consider careers in science and technology. WISE and the Stemettes are doing sterling work, promoting awareness and providing role models. There are specific awards each year for women working in IT and although I welcome every one of these initiatives, I long for the day when they are no longer required.

Sam Spiro is Managing Director of Urban IT Solutions, specialists in managed IT, support and security.

Girls into IT