CIPS pitches IT careers to women

The event itself may still be weeks away but the message being sent by the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) is crystal clear, and that is more women need to enter the information technology sector.

The second annual Women in IT event will be held on March 8 on the grounds of Ryerson University in Toronto. Its goal is to encourage young women to pursue a career in what many view as a geeky profession.

The one-day event will feature women in the industry who will seek to educate and clarify some common stereotypes about what a job in the IT sector entails.

“We’re trying to correct the misperception that many young women have that an IT career involves an isolated environment with just you and your computer in some dark, dingy basement,” said Karen Lopez, a director for CIPS in Toronto.

She estimated that in post-secondary institutions, women make up less than 20 per cent of graduates in the field, and overall enrollment by women has been on the decline for the past five years. According to the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey update for 1999 (the most recent numbers available), women made up 24 per cent of workers in the field of computer design systems.

The CIPS event will target women in grade nine, letting students take part in an essay contest and an online mentoring program. It is a dual attempt to educate young people to the benefits of choosing a career path in IT and to address the much larger issue of the skills shortage Canada faces. Lopez argued that getting more women into the profession will help lessen the skills shortage problem Canada continues to face. She said the goal of CIPS is to see an equal number of people in the profession. However, it appears that there are still many obstacles yet to climb before this becomes a reality.

“(IT) is not seen as a profession yet. Men do but women are only beginning to see it as a profession. It’s still an industry in its infancy, a growing industry (and) women have been slower to join this type of industry,” said Susan Russell, executive director for the Canadian Federation of University Women in Ottawa. She pointed to the medical profession, where the numbers are now 50-50 for both genders, and the length of time it has taken women to achieve this feat. She estimated it would take another 20 years for the numbers to even out.

Kevin Dee, a national board member for Access, an IT recruiting firm in Ottawa, estimated that in areas such as programming and networking, the split among job seekers is roughly 75 to 25 per cent in favour of men. And in project management, the numbers increase to a staggering 90 per cent.

He said education needs to start very early, around the grade four level, so that when the time comes to make a decision as to what they want to study in university, IT has already been established in their minds.

“Women are half the workforce. There is and will continue to be a shortage in the IT sector, so if half of your workforce isn’t (interested) in it, it’s a huge concern. It’s an educational thing,” Dee said.

CIPS in Toronto can be reached at

The Canadian Federation of University Women in Ottawa can be reached at