Campaign promoting women in IT gets boost

A campaign to attract more women into IT, and into engineering and science in general, to solve skills shortages has been...

A campaign to attract more women into IT, and into engineering and science in general, to solve skills shortages has been relaunched with a powerful new sponsor, writes John Kavanagh.

The Women Into Science and Engineering (Wise) campaign was relaunched last month by Margaret Beckett, leader of the House of Commons, as the shared responsibility of the Engineering Council, which has the BCS as a leading member, the Engineering Employers' Federation and the Engineering and Marine Training Authority.

"Women have more opportunities than ever to get involved in scientific careers, but not enough of them are doing so, even though they have a huge amount to offer - and to gain," says Beckett, a longstanding supporter of Wise.

While Wise has been running for 16 years it is now seen as having more weight with the backing of the industry bodies.

"This relaunch, with the support of these three organisations, acknowledges the tremendous importance of such a campaign," says Wise manager Marie-Noelle Barton. "We must ensure that companies recruit the best people from the pool of talent - both men and women."

Research by BCS affiliate Women Into Computing shows that the proportion of women in IT has dropped from 25% to less than 20% in 15 years, with the number of women on computer science degree courses falling from 25% to 12%.

Wise runs conferences, awards schemes and mobile technology classrooms for girls, and provides booklets, videos and a register of successful women.

At the same time the BCS is promoting a scheme which funds women through research and training to get them back to work in IT and engineering, typically after having children. The Daphne Jackson Trust, set up by the UK's first female professor of physics, provides fellowships of at least £17,000 over two years to support women graduates.

People can do research and gain new skills at a university or an industrial laboratory. They can also work part-time to fit in with their family commitments.

"Every year hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of high-level education and training is lost because of the problems of returning to work after a break," says Ann Taylor, a director of the trust.

"Daphne Jackson was a lifelong campaigner. She met talented women reduced to taking low-level jobs because they needed training to return to their former work."

The trust is funded by more than 20 employers, universities and research organisations. Around 90% of people who have been through the scheme since 1985 have got appropriate jobs at the end. Applicants must have taken a break of at least three years.

Wise is at www.wisecampaign.org.uk and on 020-7227 8421.

The Daphne Jackson Trust is at djmft@surrey.ac.uk and on 01483-259166.

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