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Happy Girls in ICT Day!

To celebrate Girls in ICT Day, Sean McGrath explores the tech sector's gender inequality problem and what is being done to solve it

Less that 30% of the 7 million people working in the information and communication (ICT) sector are women; a woeful misrepresentation of society. Look at tech roles specifically, and the figure is even more bleak. According to data crowdsourced by Tracy Chou, women make up on average only 15.75% of software engineering teams.

Only 18% of Google's techies are female. At Facebook, the figure drops to 16%. And at Twitter, it shrinks to a depressing 10%.

As we all know, the ICT sector is exploding, creating around 120,000 new jobs every year. The European Commission estimates that there will be a 900,000 skilled ICT worker shortfall by 2020.

One of the most obvious ways to tackle this skills crisis is by addressing the gender chasm in ICT.

Filling the pipeline 

The clearest and most logical explanation for this gender disparity is that it is a pipeline problem. Girls are not being engaged at an early age.

To mark Girls in ICT Day, Nominet commissioned Parent Zone to carry out a survey on 2,000 British children aged 11-18 years old, in order to gauge their aspirations for the future.

The top three ‘dream jobs’ for boys were: computer game developer (36.5%), app developer (17.2%), and website developer (15.1%). Had this question been asked twenty years ago, the answers would have likely been: ‘astronaut’, ‘fireman’ and ‘pilot’, so Noninet’s data is great news for tech in general.

However, the top three dream jobs for girls painted a vastly different picture. Fashion designer took first place (13%), graphic designer swooped second (12.9%) and teacher came third (12.8%).

Asked for their reasons for not aiming towards a career in IT, 41% of girls said that it was ‘boring’, while 35% said it was ‘too technical’ and 28% said it was ‘too hard’.

As a society, these statistics should be deeply alarming. The fact that so many girls are of the opinion that certain careers are beyond their grasp at such a young age, suggests that we are failing future generations. While the gender gap in IT is tangible, and therefore debatable, it is nothing more than a window into a much wider social issue.

“Young women are strongly influenced by their school years, what they learn and the role models they look up to,” commented Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone. “These influences can clearly make a difference to the choices they make later in life, so it’s paramount we do all we can now to ensure the success of our future IT workforce.” 

The Girls in ICT initiative is a global effort, organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Its aim is to raise awareness on empowering and encouraging girls and young women to consider studies and careers in ICT. 

Today is the sixth annual Girls in ICT Day, which sees events held around the world. Large tech vendors such as Cisco are taking part with office visits, tours, presentations, and mentoring.

Digging deeper

Events such as Girls in ICT Day are fantastic platforms to stimulate interest in IT; however, in order to truly address the pipeline problem, a much more grassroots approach is needed. As an American politician once said, “At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of parents.”

“Parents looking to support their children through this critical period should encourage them to take advantage of coding clubs and extra-curricular IT classes,” Shotbolt advises. “It’s easy for parents to slip into the trap of being negative about technology, but it’s important they try to see it through their children’s eyes and remember that technology is likely to feature in their careers when they leave school. There are lots of resources available to parents when it comes to cultivating their children’s interests in IT, so they should know that help is available if they need it.”

The tech sector has a responsibility to pursue gender equality; but in order to reach the promise land, a collective effort is required – from government, from schools, the private sector and from parents. 

Read more on Salesforce Management

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Perhaps some of the boys could take the time to train the girls. Without condescension. Unless we start to teach women while their still very young, women will never feel comfortable in IT. Unless they like bucking the norm. 

As long as we think of women in the IT workplace as "special" or "odd" or "exceptional" or "girls" the doors will never open, the ceiling will never crack. The fault is ours, not theirs. Far too many men are still entrenched in last century's sexism, whether overt or underlying. 

It's well past time we ban Barbie dolls and let young women play with their new Ada dolls. There is nothing inherently male about technology or the programs that control it.
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