Girls encouraged to pursue IT careers

As part of its Women in Technology program, IBM Canada Ltd. recently pulled 30 teachers out of their classrooms to become students for a day.

The program brought together teachers from the Greater Toronto Area who had little experience with computers and taught them to create a Web site. In turn, these teachers will bring this knowledge back to their classrooms, focusing on getting young girls interested in technology.

Kelly Masci, an information developer for the DB2 Universal Database at IBM in Markham, Ont., and leader of the workshop, said it’s important to interest younger girls in technology, and maintain that interest throughout elementary and high schools and into university.

According to Masci, grade seven and eight girls who had previously participated in workshops thought computers were “geeky, nerdy and for boys.” However, girls in the fourth grade thought that computers were fun and cool.

Joanne Moore, the technical resources program manager for the IBM Toronto Laboratory said that programs such as this are an investment in IBM’s future.

“My job is attracting top talent to IBM, retaining them while they’re here and developing them. IBM prides itself in a diverse workforce, and that means we’d like to see more women getting into IT,” she said.

Richard Kranjec, a computer teacher at Whitehaven Junior Public School in Toronto, said he’d like to see more teachers starting computer clubs for girls within schools, just as many schools have started reading clubs for boys.

“We want to grab their attention so that they will want to continue through school with IT,” he said.

Anne-Marie Croteau, an associate professor in MIS at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, said this is a problem that needs to be addressed now.

“Many researchers and practitioners have observed the trend of decreased female presence in information systems both in the professional workplace setting as well as in the academic setting. A recent survey in the IS workplace revealed that women are severely under-represented in the IS profession and hold only 20 per cent versus men’s 80 per cent of jobs in IS,” Croteau said.

According other studies, female college enrolment in computer science has dropped drastically in the last 10 years, which further undermines the female presence in IS workplaces, she said.

Michelle Day, a fourth-year computer science student and president of the Computing Science Students Association at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, said she was aware of the imbalance of men versus women in her program. But it didn’t hit home for her until she took a close look at the enrolment lists for computer labs.

“Only about one in five of the students are girls,” she said.

Day admits she was more like one of the girls that Masci described during high school. It wasn’t until taking a few years off of school that she decided to pursue an education in IT.

“I wanted a career in something that would make my mind expand so much that I would never have to stop learning, and in IT you can always learn on the job because the field is continually changing. I wanted a challenge and IT looked like a really good one,” Day said.

This is exactly the sort of person that Moore is looking forward to recruiting in the future.

Croteau, who was also the first woman to obtain a Ph.D. specializing in IS at Laval University in Quebec City, said exposing girls to computers at an early age is a good strategy to attract them to IS programs. She also sees the benefit in creating mentoring programs for young girls.

“On a personal note, my choice of studies was influenced very early. Around eight years old I was told by my parents that there were no reasons for me to choose a career based on my gender,” she said.