Enthuse about IT's potential to stop women leaving the industry

There has been a great deal of talk recently about women in IT; last month Computer Weekly reported that the number of women in...

There has been a great deal of talk recently about women in IT; last month Computer Weekly reported that the number of women in IT has fallen by 26,000 in the past 12 months. But why is this?

Discrimination may be the obvious answer, but I do not believe this is the case. We have progressed in leaps and bounds since I first entered the industry as a programmer in the early 1970s. At that point discrimination did exist and to work in the industry as a woman was difficult.

For example, I was paid less then my male counterparts and, when I asked why, I was told it was because my male colleagues had families to support. Also, in those days I would often feel excluded from the informal business conversations that took place during meeting breaks or at the coffee machine.

Money tends not to be such an issue now, as in most cases men and women are paid on ability rather than gender. So the question of why there are not more women in IT must be for another reason.

The IT industry has become viewed as a technical profession about bits and bytes, rather than a sector that is exciting, challenging and cutting edge.

Much of the original zeal that surrounded the profession in the 1970s has been lost. We need to get this back if we are to encourage more women into IT. The industry should be demonstrating that IT is no longer a "techie" silo, but instead a fundamental part of the business landscape.

Employers should also use career development plans to show that the IT industry takes a structured approach to developing its people.

Perhaps most importantly, employers need to enthuse about IT to potential candidates and remind them how IT has shaped the way we live and work.

IT now plays a critical role in the boardroom as it underpins the framework many businesses operate on. Not only is IT more accountable to the business, it can prove the value it delivers through measures such as service level management.

With this increased visibility and responsibility, IT is a much more attractive place to work and should appeal to a wider spectrum of people. IT has also enabled business practices to change through flexible and remote working, which benefits all employees and demonstrates how innovative and forward-thinking the industry is.

People looking to achieve a good work/life balance - whether they are male or female - stand to benefit from the IT industry's evolution.

Irene Dawson is senior vice-president of Compuware EMEA
This was last published in April 2004

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