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Network Rail CIO opens competition to encourage more women into IT

Caroline Baldwin

Network Rail’s CIO has launched a competition to encourage women into IT by offering to pay the winner’s first year of university fees.

Susan Cooklin, CIO of Network Rail, is leading a competition – Could IT Be You -  to introduce women to IT and demonstrate career opportunities.

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The e-skills UK Technology Insights 2012 report claims the proportion of women working in UK technology roles has more than halved since the 1980s. A survey of 16-24 year old women by Network Rail revealed 64% of women have not considered a career in IT.

According to the new survey, 10% of women are put off by negative stereotyping, while 43% blame a lack of technical skill.

Cooklin said: "Popular culture has helped create a perception among young women that a career in IT is all about writing code in basement offices – the reality couldn't be further from the truth.”

Over half of women surveyed believed they needed a high level of technical expertise in computer programming to pursue a successful career in IT. Some 23% thought a degree or college qualification in technology was most important.

Only 4% thought good project management skills were the most important and only 7% believed good communication skills was the most valuable asset.

"Could IT Be You aims to break down those myths and help young women realise how the skills and behaviours they already have – such as good communications, problem solving and working creatively – are exactly what business leaders are after.”

Cooklin said her team is made up of both technical experts with related qualifications, as well as people with skills in other areas. All six women who created the competition work in IT project management roles at Network Rail. But only one has a technical subject undergraduate degree. The others studied history, English, psychology and philosophy, and biochemistry and pharmacology.

Between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of women in IT roles at Network Rail has increased by 26% to 28%. But the number of women applying for the company’s information graduate scheme remained low at 20%.

The competition is open to 16-18 year old females, who are asked to answer five questions and provide an essay.

Fifty entrants will be invited to a networking day in February where they will have the opportunity to meet business women in various industries and record a minute-long film about their day. The top four films will win work experience with Network Rail and continued mentoring, while first prize includes work experience and their first year of university fees paid by the company.

Those interested should visit www.couldITbu.co.uk


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