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Lovelace Medal winner highlights need for more women in computing

Justin Richards

"Computing is too important to be left to men" said the late Karen Sparck-Jones, winner of the 2007 BCS Lovelace Medal, when interviewed by the BCS earlier this year. And she may have a point.

Sparck-Jones said that she had always worked in "natural language information processing" rather than computing. That is to say, "dealing with information in natural language and information that is conveyed by natural language, because that is what we use".

Asked if she felt it was important to encourage more women into IT, Sparck-Jones said, "I think it is very important to get more women into computing. I think women bring a different perspective to computing, they are more thoughtful and less inclined to go straight for technical fixes.

"We need women to see the intellectual challenges and social importance of computing, all of the things that computer systems are used for now, and why it matters to society."

The BCS has a specialist group for women, BCSWomen, which aims to bring together women working in IT and to promote the industry to women who are unsure about taking up an IT-related career.

BCSWomen hosts an online discussion forum with more than 800 female BCS members supporting and encouraging women working in IT. Members offer technical and managerial advice, assisting others to solve problems, navigate difficult situations at work, and celebrate successes and achievements.

Several BCSWomen members have secured promotions after being supported by group members through the online network.

BCSWomen recently held a celebration of the achievements of women in technology at the IEEE Software Engineering and Formal Methods conference 2007 in London. The event attracted an audience of more than 120 people, and one audience member flew in from Zurich especially for the occasion.

BCSWomen also celebrates the achievements of girls in technology. At the event, Sue Black, founder and chair of BCSWomen and head of department at the University of Westminster, presented Katie Phillips, aged 11, and Priyanka Thakrar, aged 12, with BCSWomen certificates and vouchers worth £100 for their achievements in IT.

The BCS and Equalitec are holding a lunchtime networking event on 13 November at BCS's London offices to learn about the pleasures and passions of innovation and being a female innovator. The idea is that those attending can share knowledge and learn about how they too could become an innovator.


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