Fight the gap

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.

Oh and someone asked me about the “dream job” line on the Big Ambition website. My dream job? IT obviously 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Fight the gap

  1. I studied some basic computing at school and really enjoyed it. Then I went on to work for an educational technology start up and wished I knew more about the technology, rather than the education (still do). If I could go back to university I’d choose to study ICT in some form, no question. Why didn’t I choose to study it when I had the chance? Not sure, but I have some ideas:
    1. It never occurred to me. Girls don’t think of themselves as programmers in my experience; just as they don’t think of themselves as plumbers or scaffies.
    2. No one ever suggested it. Careers advisors, teachers and parents don’t tend to think of girls as being suited to ICT either.
    3. Those dumb programs that ask you your interests and spit out suggested careers never mentioned it (mine suggested translator even though I had no interest in languages).
    4. The ‘girls into computing’ event I attended at Glasgow University when I was seventeen was really offputting. We did dumb tasks on old PCs in a crumbling computer lab, assisted by morons.
    5. On first reflection, being the only girl in an office of men is appealing, but after a little thought, it gets quite intimidating. Call it the herd mentality if you like, but we need our sisters.

  2. I work for e-skills UK and also attended the Microsoft workshop mentioned in the original article above. I was very interested by the follow up comment above since I totally relate to the points raised.

    I trained in Fine Art and have always known that my talents lied in the creative area and certainly not in IT since Maths was never my strong point! Interestingly, no one ever pointed out that the two could co-exist or that you don’t necessarily need to be a mathematical genius to succeed in the field of IT since this vast fast developing industry encompasses such a variety of job roles. Please see http://www.bigambition.co.uk and view the Inspirational People library of videos showing employees working in a broad range of companies in a multitude of job roles.

    Having completed my degree at Goldsmiths College, London University, I then spent two years completing a Multimedia and Virtual Reality Diploma at Kingsway College. Since then I have gone on to specialize in several stimulating job roles including Creative Director / Flash Developer / Web Designer and currently Digital Content Manager. The roles are very creative, exploring the ever changing visual interface of the digital world around us. I can’t stress more what an exciting environment this is to work in and hope that education will start to represent this more so that students will not continue to be supplied dull and out-of-date information as witnessed in the last comment above.

    e-skills UK works closely with industry and education authorities to change these preconceptions of the workplace and has created programmes which serve to tackle the gender inbalance and strive to inspire students to consider a career in IT. Two thirds of the girls on our employer-backed computer clubs programme, CC4G, report being more positive about a career in technology as a result; half of those registered on our new IT careers website, BigAmbition, are female; and around a third of students on our employer-designed IT and business degree course, ITMB, are female – compared to 15% for traditional computing degrees.

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