Still young, keen and female

Merant was one of a number of IT companies that took part in the Take Our Daughters To Work day.

Merant was one of a number of IT companies that took part in the Take Our Daughters To Work day.

While most parents only take their children into work as a last resort, across the UK last week girls were taken to their parents' place of work as part of a nationwide initiative to introduce them to different careers.

Take Our Daughters To Work day - open to girls aged between 11 and 15 - was held on 26 April. One IT company that decided to participate in the public education campaign was Merant. It introduced three girls to the world of information technology at their fathers' offices in St Albans. Others were invited to participate in the event at Merant's Newbury site.

The girls' day began with an induction into their fathers' positions in the company. Heather Mills, 14, shadowed her father Paul, a Merant consultant, while Micha and Rebecca Dudley (13 and 11 respectively) spent the day with their dad Mick - director of development for Merant's Dimensions product.

After an overview of how IT is used to support businesses, the girls were given a tour of all the departments: operations, marketing, sales, pre-sales, training, SupportNet, Answerline and development.

The company's human resources department also provided information on the different types of careers available in IT, with the benefits of each. The girls were given advice on the skills necessary for IT and the steps to take to successfully enter the sector.

"I'm quite interested in what my dad does," says Heather, "because he talks about it at home and he likes doing stuff with computers."

Although she has had lessons in IT at school, Heather has mainly worked with applications such as Excel. She will have the option of taking IT as a separate course next year.

Heather says she enjoys learning about how IT is behind many things in daily life, but she is not yet sure she will choose to study the subject.

Micha and Rebecca Dudley wanted to visit Merant to get a better idea of what their father does for a living. "They were attracted by the sales perks," laughs Mick Dudley. "I was keen for my daughters to see what I do. I think it's a great idea."

Both Micha and Rebecca enjoy working with IT at home. Their father is keen to support their interest and the girls have been working on designing their own Web sites - using both HTML and Microsoft Frontpage.

While it's too early for the girls to make career decisions yet, they all felt that the day had helped broaden their view of IT.

Other firms are holding separate initiatives to give girls a chance learn about IT. Sun Microsystems, for example, is planning to hold a taster day on 18 May. The UK-wide initiative, meanwhile, is held annually on the fourth Thursday in April and was first held in 1993.

While the day may not guarantee that the girls will join the IT sector, Merant's two female developers insist it will help to get the message across that IT is not just for boys.

"I think women can bring a lot to IT," says Nasreen Samji, a 25-year old software developer who has a degree in computer science, "but they're just not applying. I hope more will be encouraged by taster days."

Shima Patel, 22, who is spending her placement year with Merant while studying for her BSc in computer science at the University of Herfordshire, agrees, "Eight months in my placement has strengthened my resolve to go into IT," she says. "I think it's a good activity to introduce schoolgirls to what IT's all about."

The girls insist that teachers at their schools do not favour boys when it comes to IT. "I didn't know there was a problem getting women into IT, " says Micha. "I'm surprised, because all my friends are into IT."

But Heather is aware of the issue. "Boys always seem like the people who would go and do things with computers."

Samji and Patel also think girls view the industry as being geared towards men, but claim it didn't affect their choice. "I did think it was male-dominated in the beginning, but that didn't bother me," says Patel.

They insist that being the only female developers out of 37 working at the St Albans site has not created problems. "Merant has been encouraging in that way," insists Samji. "The guys in development are very helpful. I've never felt left out, and even felt that it can be advantage sometimes. They treat me like an equal, but often run to help out."

Goodwin and Dudley both welcome the idea of more women joining the IT sector. "In my experience, some of the better people I've worked with have been women," says Goodwin.

Dudley agrees, "I like the balance of working with females," he explains. "It's no good having a purely one-sided view. But you don't get the applicants - it's rare to see a female developer."

Samji believes that if more women understood the flexibility of working in IT, there would be more female interest in the job. "It's not a nine-to-five job. I'm hoping in five or 10 years, when I have a family, that I can work from home. It's the kind of job where you don't always have to be in the office," she comments.

Although the day may not raise the low number of women working in IT overnight, all those who were involved at Merant believe it will eventually have an impact.

Nadia Damon

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