The Canadian Information Processing Society’s (CIPS) third annual Women in IT: Looking Towards the Future kicked off in Toronto earlier this month with a sombre message: Canadian women’s enrolment in IT studies has dropped considerably.
The event, directed at high school girls, is designed to encourage them to pursue a career in IT while dispelling some of the negative myths that surround the industry – for instance, that the sector is a profession of geeks and that it requires people to 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 comprised only 15 per cent of the IT student body.
CIPS also conducted its own informal survey of women in 10 universities across the country and found that 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 then, 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.
The concerns were echoed by Loulse Bardswich, dean of Humber’s School of Information Technology, who 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 for 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. As IT enrolment levels have fallen off at the college, media, business and applied technology departments have all experienced increases in enrolment, she noted.
With more than 300 students gathered at the event on Thursday, ComputerWorld Canada asked Bojana Zdero, a 15-year-old grade nine student at Silverthorn Collegiate Institute in Toronto what her perceptions are of the IT industry.
“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 now. 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 have volunteered their time to visit high schools to discuss the benefits of an IT career.