Women down tools and walk away from IT

IT is a forward looking and progressive industry, which is revolutionising the way we conduct our lives and businesses. I was,...

IT is a forward looking and progressive industry, which is revolutionising the way we conduct our lives and businesses. I was, therefore, greatly surprised when I read that the number of women working in IT has fallen from 29% in 1994 to only 24% in 1999.

Lyn Stewart-Ashley

Soapbox

With the urgent skills shortage that is currently plaguing the IT industry, why are women downing tools and walking away from it - or not being attracted to it in the first place? Don't they realise they are turning their backs on limitless career opportunities? What can be done to prevent this exodus?

According to recent statistics, IT is still seen as one of the least attractive of industries in which to work. Undoubtedly, this is a major demotivational factor for those women working within the industry and others that are considering entering it for the first time.

While IT is never likely to be as well respected as, say, the legal or medical professions, a lot more groundwork could be done to improve its profile.

The industry needs to highlight the fact that it is possible for women to have a fulfilled, dynamic and varied career within IT. In such a fast moving market place, it is possible that the piece of equipment that you will make your mark selling or installing has not even been invented yet! I personally began my career in banking and switched to IT when I realised the vast range of challenges it offered me, as a woman at a time when glass ceilings were firmly in place elsewhere.

Of course, the reduction in the number of women working in computing could be caused by the understandable desire to start a family. If so, it is important that the career paths of opportunity are kept wide open for new mothers to return to IT. The flexibility that revolutionary Internet technologies provide should be fully utilised to enable remote working if necessary.

Certainly, smaller and more innovative companies increasingly support a more flexible working environment, for example, encouraging part-time and home working, but, if the number of women in IT is to increase substantially, large corporations need to follow suit. In the US, 50% of new IT companies are founded by women, so it is possible that female talent is seriously untapped at present in this country.

Lyn Stewart-Ashley is managing director of Fibernet Group UK

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