Flexibility is key to women choosing IT

Louise Proddow may have found a job in the IT sector accidentally, but she's doing everything she can to encourage other women to...

Louise Proddow may have found a job in the IT sector accidentally, but she's doing everything she can to encourage other women to step into jobs in the industry.

As UK marketing director for Sun Microsystems, Proddow is not only making a name for herself as the only female director on the company's board, she is also a successful writer of consumer technology books for women.

UK Web Women, her second book on the technology sector, aims to open up the Internet to women everywhere, help them to make it a useful addition to their lives and dispel the mystery of the Internet to non-techies. "I found writing the book quite empowering," says Proddow. "Going into chat forums and looking at the really practical side of the Internet. The book is trying to knock down barriers."

Proddow has devoted a chapter of UK Web Women to the working in the technology industry. It provides links to Web sites that offer information and support for women working, or looking to work, in the IT sector.

There is information for women looking to return to work, and encouragement for women to boost their IT confidence by becoming more Internet-savvy. Proddow suggests that women visit Internet chatrooms such as www. lifeoutlined.co.uk and talk to other people about their experiences.

According to Proddow, allowing women to work in a more flexible way is key to successful recruitment. "Within my marketing team, I have two part-time mothers who work three days a week," she says. "The company also offers women better than statutory maternity rights, which includes bonus payments when you return to work."

This flexible outlook extends to the office too. Like every Sun employee, Proddow does not have her own desk. Instead, she works from different locations depending on her workload.

"Where I work depends on what will be the most productive that day. If I have meetings in the City, then I may spend time catching up on e-mail in our drop-in centre there," she explains. "When I am working on strategic plans I cut out the commuting and log in from home. Our flexible work practices not only enhance productivity, but they also help achieve a better work-life balance.

"Gone are the days when it was necessary to sit at the same desk nine-to-five every day. At Sun, you can log on from anywhere."

Proddow's interest in women's perception of the Internet goes hand-in-hand with her work for Sun.

As marketing director, she has been involved in setting up "taster days" - a government programme aimed at showing schoolgirls what careers are available to them in IT. As the industry attracts a disproportionate number of men, this scheme aims to redress the balance.

While many girls' perception of IT is as a subject for nerds, Proddow believes companies need to do more to eradicate this stereotype. "The lack of women in IT is an issue that everyone working in the industry should address," she says. "The proportion of women in IT at the moment is 24%, that's down from 29% in 1994."

Sun is doing its bit to help promote the technology sector to women, according to Proddow. She says providing diversity in the workplace is key to attracting people to the sector. The company is sponsoring a networking group called Women in IT, which is hosting its third meeting on 23 May, this time with the theme of mentoring.

Proddow's own move into IT was accidental. After graduating with a first class honours degree in business studies, an MBA in marketing and a diploma from the Institute of Marketing, Proddow found herself with a job at IT firm Honeywell-Bull in 1986. She then joined Toshiba as marketing communications manager in 1991, before moving to Sun as head of UK marketing in 1994.

While she is thoroughly enjoying her success in the IT sector, Proddow believes one of the problems of getting women into IT is their perception of technology.
"IT isn't high enough on women's agendas that they understand the sort of skills needed in this industry," she explains. "They think of IT as being all about technology, rather than jobs such as project management.

"I don't think the issue has been high enough on employers' agendas. It is about having better consistency in how you promote and advise on jobs so that they appeal to a broader base of people."

Nadia Damon

UK Web Women by Louise Proddow can be obtained through retailers, priced £4.99

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