Keep the doors open

Information technology careers provide great opportunities, yet most young women are choosing not to study computing during their high school and post-secondary educational careers. These women are closing the door on opportunities for high paying jobs, lower unemployment and higher job satisfaction. Why? Because many girls have a misconception about information technology careers.

In Britain, a study done by a technical skills organization showed that girls would rather become undertakers than enter the IT workforce.

I’m amazed that many girls I talk to tell me that they see IT jobs as being un-cool, isolating and unrewarding. What they know about computing careers is what they’ve seen on television and at school.

On television they see stereotypical characters of computer hackers, often doing illegal things with their computing skills. These characters are often socially inept, with no sense of cool. Think of the Dennis Nedry character played by Wayne Knight in the film Jurassic Park and you have a picture of what most girls think of computing careers.

These characters work in isolation, often in dark environments with only a glowing monitor, pop cans and empty bags of chips surrounding their workspace. Not exactly the type of job I’d want to have and I don’t blame girls for closing that door, either.

My own IT career has opened up many doors and taken me to places in which I never thought I’d work or visit.

In school, girls see boys working with computers, often just for the sake of finding out how something works or to see if they can make something work differently.

Most girls, on the other hand, aren’t interested in technology for the sake of technology. A study done at Carnegie Mellon University showed that young women want to study technology with a social purpose – to study how and why technology can improve our lives.

Through changing how computing courses are promoted and structured, Carnegie Mellon has increased the number of young women entering computing studies from eight per cent to 42 per cent.

We should be encouraging young girls to consider technology careers.

First, it’s important that information technologies be implemented in ways that meet the needs of society as a whole. One way of meeting those needs is to ensure a variety of viewpoints are represented in the design and implementation of technologies.

Second, Canadian businesses will not be able to sustain competitiveness if half of the population is opting out of IT careers needlessly.

Third, IT careers offer a great deal of benefit to those who choose to enter the field:

– IT professionals have consistently been in demand, even in slowdowns of the economy. Organizations aren’t going back to paper and pencil anytime soon.

– IT jobs are some of the highest paying professional jobs available.

– Gender-based salary gaps are lower and they kick in later in a career than in other jobs.

Information technologies are everywhere, offering new professionals a wide variety of areas in which to apply their technology skills – art, government, science, agriculture, banking, healthcare, education, manufacturing, etc.

What can we do to ensure young girls aren’t closing doors before they see what’s behind them?

First, we can ensure they have opportunities to find out what IT careers offer as far making an impact on society.

Second, we must ensure that girls are taking enough math, science and computing courses while they are in primary and secondary education. By completing these courses, young women are able to enter college and university programs to prepare for technology careers.

Third, we need to bring them together with successful female role models in the information technology industry.

The Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) is preparing for the third year of our Women In IT Program. This program culminates in live events across Canada that bring together girls in Grade 9 to hear from leading female IT professionals about their careers. CIPS wants to ensure that girls see the opportunities offered in IT careers.

You can help by encouraging girls to take more math, science and computing courses while they’re in school so that they can keep opening doors instead of closing them.

Lopez is a principal consultant at InfoAdvisors Inc. and director of professional standards for CIPS.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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