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Women in IT

At Intergen we have 29 women out of a total of around 160 staff – which amounts to less than 20%, and, of those women, only seven of them are in purely technical/development roles. This is symptomatic of a nationwide pattern that isn’t just limited to Intergen. It’s not that women aren’t being given jobs, just that it’s hard to find – and employ – something that isn’t there.

There’s a shortage of IT professionals as it is, and if we want to increase the number of capable developers out there, not eliminating nearly half the population is probably a good starting point.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, and it has been the subject of several of my blog entries (www.notethat.blogspot.com). With Intergen’s support, I took a trip to Palmerston North Girls’ High School, where I talked to the Computer Science class about the validity and viability of a career in IT. My visit was met with great success and a surprising amount of interest and positive feedback from the Year 12 and 13 students.

One comment I received after my visit was: “Your talk with us was really fantastic. It made me seriously think about IT as a career option. I went home and annoyed my parents talking about how cool it sounded and how they really should get me my own computer so I could develop my skills.”

So why aren’t more young women choosing IT careers?

Some people seem to think that women don’t have the logical brains for coding. They don’t get into development because they just can’t do it. Female developers at Intergen disprove this every day! It is true that there are differences between the way men and women think. A major one of those differences relates to aptitude for mathematics and the pure logic necessary for good programming. Men are better at it in general. However, ‘in general’ does not mean there aren’t plenty of women out there who have that aptitude. No, there aren’t as many as there are men, but the number differences aren’t anywhere near as large as those we see in the industry.

Personally, I think a major reason behind the scarcity of women in IT is the female tendency to move towards vocations where they feel they can help people, hence the traditional female domination of roles such as nursing or teaching.

I experienced an example of this recently when a younger friend, who had always aimed to be an accountant, decided she never wanted to work for an accounting firm because it couldn’t possibly be fun. “I’m a people person; I need to be working with people, not numbers.” No amount of explanations could convince her that the numbers would be helping people, that she would be part of a team and that any job is a ‘people job’.

I have nothing against wanting a career where you feel you’re helping people. That was, and is, my aim for the work I do. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the mornings if I didn’t feel that something I was going to do that day would help someone. At Intergen, our Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to “touch everyone positively every day”, and that’s something I can definitely work with. I originally got into IT after spending some time working as an admin/helpdesk person and seeing how upset and frustrated computers made people. It got me thinking that if I could help create computer programs that were easier to use, the world might be a happier place…

Young women don’t seem to be aware of what technical jobs really involve. There is still a general perception that developers spend their time in dark rooms staring at computer screens with no contact with the outside world. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had a friend say to me recently “I didn’t realise you actually talked to clients…” We need to work to change the image of the IT industry and to ensure that bright young women are aware of the variety of rewarding career opportunities available.

Intergen has just become a corporate member of Women in Technology (WIT) which provides us with access to mentoring programmes, networking and seminars as well as opportunities to work with WIT to continue promoting IT to young women as a career option. We’re looking at more visits to schools and a variety of other ideas to keep raising the profile of IT careers to all young people.

Watch this space!

Posted by: Jo Chapman | 31 July 2007

Tags: Career, Women

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