The Canadian Information Processing Society’s (CIPS) third annual Women in IT: Looking Towards the Future conference kicked off in Toronto last month with a sombre message: Canadian women’s enrolment in IT studies has dropped considerably.
The event, directed at high school girls, aims to encourage students to pursue a career in IT while dispelling some of the negative myths that surround the industry, such as that the sector is a profession full of geeky people that sit behind a computer all day. This year, Toronto’s Humber College played host to nearly 300 grade nine students.
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 comprise 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 more than 400,000 IT workers in Canada in 2001, women accounted for 27 per cent. Based on the most recent figures available at that time, CIPS said it feels the gap between men and women is widening, with more men pursuing jobs in IT.
It is a trend that CIPS is looking to buck before the numbers fall any further.
“We want to encourage these young girls to choose courses that lead directly to IT careers…or to at least keep their options open,” said Pat Gaudet, CIPS Toronto president.
Attendee Bojana Zdero, a 15-year-old grade nine student at Silverthorn Collegiate Institute in Toronto, said the IT industry is similar to other sectors.
“Technology isn’t a geeky thing, definitely not. That’s just a stereotype…it’s technology but it’s just like any other job,” she said.
Zdero said she does enjoy math courses but finds herself more interested in biology. She said that in some cases, “Women really do get discouraged from getting into technology because there are a lot of guys. People usually think technology is for men, but not necessarily.”
CIPS also announced a Women in IT Ambassador program, where women professionals across the country volunteer their time to visit high schools to discuss the benefits of an IT career. For more information, CIPS is online at www.cips.ca.