I spent Wednesday at Microsoft as part of the launch of e-skills Big Ambition initiative which aims to increase the number of girls in ICT.
The figures are depressing, whilst the number of women studying technical subjects has increased in recent years, the number of women studying ICT has fallen and it continues to fall.
What is it about my world that makes it so unattractive to women?
We had some great speakers on Wednesday who made it plain that it was possible for women to succeed in IT, have a great job and manage to achieve a winning work/life balance. The audience of 170 13~14 year old girls were obviously inspired by what they had heard as only 33% said they would consider a career in ICT at the start of the day but that had risen to 81% by the end of the day.
Part of the day was a workshop where the girls came up with new ICT product ideas which they presented to a panel of judges, of which I was one. The ideas were fun, well thought through and there was a real sense of excitement about the whole process.
So how do we preserve that sense of excitement and engagement? How do we make our world visibly appealing to a wide range of people?
Why is ICT such a monoculture? Not just in terms of gender or ethnicity but mindset as well. People will talk about how it attracts people into maths, physics, logic hence it is mainly a world of inward focused people whose minds run on linear paths.
But that strikes me as a description, not an explanation. In ICT we spend much of our lives working with people, not machines. Trying to work out what it is that people want to do. Testing our assumptions with them. Training them how to use the systems. The machine bit, the “logical” bit is the easy part, ICT is not an exercise in hermeticism, it’s about making things happen for people.
The more we can do to encourage a broad swathe of people into the profession the better. I am sure that one of the reasons why so many corporate systems are ugly, inefficient and hard to use is that we have allowed ICT to become a world of stereotypes.
It’s down to all of us in the profession to challenge those stereotypes and encourage diversity. Not for moral reasons, though those are important, but because else we will simply be unable to deliver the critical systems which people need from us.