A somber message was delivered in Toronto recently at The Canadian Information Processing Society’s (CIPS) third annual Women in IT: Looking Towards the Future conference. That message: Canadian women’s enrolment in IT studies has dropped considerably.

According to statistics provided by Humber College’s School of Information Technology, women represented 21 per cent of students enrolled in IT courses in 2000 at the college. Three years later, women comprised only 15 per cent of the IT student body at the college.

CIPS also conducted its own informal survey of women in 10 universities across the country and found approximately 15 to 20 per cent of female graduates were preparing to begin their IT careers. According to Census Canada, of the over 400,000 IT workers in Canada in 2001, women accounted for 27 per cent. Based on the most recent figures available then, CIPS said it feels the gap between men and women is widening, with more men pursuing jobs in IT.

Louise Bardswich, dean of Humber’s school of information technology, was at a loss to explain why women’s enrolment levels have decreased so dramatically. She warned that if the trend continues, it could spell disaster or the IT sector in years to come.

“We’re going to have a screaming shortage of IT people in four or five years from now,” she said.

During the event, CIPS announced a Women in IT Ambassador Program, where women professionals across the country will volunteer their time to visit high schools to discuss the benefits of an IT career.