"Of the 1.7 million jobs expected to be created by 2001, 1.3 million are forecast to be filled by women," says Margaret Jay, one of the Government's ministers for women. "We know that women are keen to develop their potential and explore new opportunities and we want to encourage women and businesses to maximise women's participation in the labour market. Women Unlimited aims to help them do just that."
The one-day event is being supported by a number of industry and education bodies, and employers, employment experts and training organisations will be on hand to offer ideas and advice. The event is particularly designed to assist women returning to work, women considering starting new businesses and women who want to learn new skills.
Taking place on 13 February at the Business Design Centre in London, Women Unlimited will highlight the importance of IT, both as a career option and as a vital skill in today's workplace.
Sun Microsystems is one of the event sponsors."The Internet and the new economy provides opportunities, services and social empowerment for everyone," says Louise Proddow, marketing director at Sun. "Many barriers still exist, including opening up the IT industry to address the gender gap. The objective really is to close the gender gap in terms of how IT is perceived by many women."
Proddow hopes the day will inspire women to consider a career in IT by showing them what is involved in working in the industry, whether it is for a traditional or "new economy" company. It will be a good networking event, something that Proddow thinks should be encouraged. "Women are cautious about networking, but if you all network together and share ideas, that will help both women and industry."
She says it is vital for women to have positive role models. "There are lots of women who are successful, but there has not been much media coverage of them and we need to show the success stories. There are lots of positive role models in start-up businesses already, where there is not the 'glass-ceiling'. Research shows that women can get higher up quicker than they can normally in a start-up."
A study carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year showed that the dotcom industry is attracting a significant number of female high-flyers. Conducted across Europe, the study, called Busy Doing Business: European Dotcom Women, found that 11% of dotcom executives are female. The percentage of female executives in the total labour market is between 1.5% and 5.3%.
In addition to the Women Unlimited event, Proddow is also promoting the role of women in IT through her role on the panel of a new Government think-tank called Feminising ICT. Also on the panel are ministers for women, Margaret Jay and Tessa Jowell.
After holding its first meeting in January, the think-tank hopes to bring out a white paper on the issue of women and IT. As with the Women Unlimited fair, the emphasis will be on the role of IT, what the opportunities are and how it can benefit women.
"We want to make the image of ICT more attractive to women, show them the opportunities and address the skills gap," says Proddow. "We have to get the message out there and open up the perception of what the IT industry is like."
Women Unlimited takes place on 13 February at the Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, Islington, London. It is a free event with creche facilities. For information and registration forms, visit www.womens-unit.gov.uk/womenunlimited or call 0870-7511 484