Sunday, 11 June 2006

Women and ICT - where are they all?

Hi again, sorry for the lack of entries - it has been a particularly busy time for me. I have attended a number of events that I want to talk about on this blog so I'll try and catch up over the coming month!

First of all I want to tell you about a new personal development challenge that I gave myself this past week. An opportunity arose through the BCS Women Group to present to a group of year 10 girls (aged 14) from local schools at a 'Women into ICT' day at a local college. I've done a fair bit of presenting but this was the first time to a young audience. With 45 minutes to fill, I didn't want to just talk about my role as a support officer as I figured that would put them to sleep. I needed another angle so started digging around a little.

I was surprised to find that in 2001 just 22% of the IT workforce was made up of women which apparently was a 10% reduction over the previous 7 years! The more I read the more I wanted to convince these young women that they are needed in the future UK IT industry. Women were leaving IT in droves...why was that? Could it be the way it is taught in schools? Or is it still all about perception?

My research turned up the belief (which I happen to agree with) that IT in schools needs to be split between the basic IT skills that everyone needs (much in the same way then require English and Maths) and the IT / computing required for a career in IT. There is a new IT diploma being developed for 2008 so that when kids leave school they actually have skills relevant to the workplace.

There's even a Computer Club for Girls (CC4G) scheme which schools can be involved with to show girls other aspects of technology and its applications.

So, people are already trying to do something about IT education. That left me wondering what I could do to combat the perception. Another little stat for you from a survey in 2005.
  • 35% of respondents aged 13-17 associate a career in IT as some form of administrative or secretarial office work.
  • 27% of respondents would consider a career in ICT or Computing.
For me this was a shocking revelation and it helped me form the theme for my presentation. I knew I wanted to break the presentation up into parts to make it more interactive and after talking my ideas through with a few people came up with what I hoped would be a winning formula.
  1. Introduce myself and outline the agenda for them (90 seconds)
  2. Split them into groups for a group exercise: "Who am I?" This was designed to get them thinking about difference aspects of an IT support worker through personality, environment, skills, and education (20 minutes). I also hoped it would reinforce the stereotype to go neatly into:
  3. Showing a TV clips of Nick Burns The Computer Guy with Jennifer Aniston to sum up the stereotype and demonstrate how IT support shouldn't be done (5 minutes).
  4. 'A day in the life...' A quick talk about the different aspects of my work as well as those I work with to show that we aren't the stereotype (well, not all of us anyway!).
  5. A quick explanation of how I got from school to where I am now.
  6. An explanation of why I was there on a 'women into ICT' day including some stats to reinforce a few points.
  7. Finishing with a quick fire quiz with sweets for correct answers.
I'm pleased to say that the girls got stuck into the exercise and in some cases surprised me with their appreciation for IT requiring a more varied skillset than I expected them to recognise. In particular they stressed communication. Yet another great example for me of why we need more women in IT service delivery roles - they get it and they haven't been taught (no offence to any men reading this)!

The clip made them laugh, and they managed to stay awake for what I considered the boring part of the presentation, then sprung back into life for the quiz.

I stayed to listen to another presentation, curious as to the approach they took, which was quite different to mine but in some senses perhaps more useful as it gave them a lot to think about in terms of different job roles available in IT where as I focused primarily on support and destroying stereotypes.

I also assisted with the practical HTML workshop which was fun. They seemed to really enjoy seeing the results of their coding and playing around with colours etc.

All in all I found the experience very worth while and would certainly do it again if the opportunity arose. It was a challenge for me to find ways to maintain the interest of a room of 25 young girls as well as deliver it. I can only hope that if they only took one thing away from the presentation its that 'A career in IT is for women too'!


Anonymous said...

I find any career is not rewarding anymore for young people. You work and work and get no reward - house prices are too high etc etc. Basically you might as well do a temp job to cover your rent and spend the rest on holidays. There is no point in trying to make a career when your confidence is shot by the state of the country.

The ITIL Imp said...

Hi there, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I'm with you on the house prices (having just gotten back on the property ladder after a number of years renting) especially in the South of England.

Mind you, it really depends on what you want out of a career as to whether there is a point or not. For some people it's not all about the money. Then again, for those that it is - IT pays a whole lot better than some other industry sectors out there ;)

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