Society needs to change the way it presents and views IT careers if more women are to be encouraged to join the industry, according to BCS president and computing professor Liz Bacon (pictured).
Bacon told V3 that a combination of media stereotypes of IT workers, poor careers advice and the difficulty some teachers might have when trying to teach the new coding-focused curriculum, stop women from pursuing IT careers.
Bacon explained that in primary schools children of both genders have an equal interest in coding and computing.
However, this is eroded as they move through education due to the stigma of a male-dominated industry promoted by the media that puts females off the industry for life.
“I think there are huge problems around [IT] having a 'nerdy' image. If you look at the media representation of IT professionals, it’s not cool. Most of the time, if you think of an IT person in the media it’s going to be the unwashed nerd in the corner with a ponytail and sandals that doesn’t have a girlfriend.”
“It’s not an image people aspire to, and I think there’s an awful lot we [society] do to damage things."
Bacon said the media must do more to present a positive image of the typical IT worker: “What happens in the media has a huge impact on people’s perception of careers and technology. So I do think the media could do more to help in this space.”
Bacon said the problem is increased because many teachers asked to cover IT topics don't understand the topic: “I think we have school teachers who are being asked to teach IT who really don’t understand the subject and unable to inspire."
To try and encourage more women to consider IT as a career path, Bacon has created a network of senior women involved in the engineering, technology and science sectors.
Bacon said the aim of the network is to support existing approaches, including mentoring and work shadowing to show females how the industry can provide an interesting, compelling career.
The women involved in the network will also act as role models for younger generations to aspire to, and their success will be well publicised. She added the network will also work to encourage good practice in supporting women returning to work with training and flexible working patterns.
Over 20 women have volunteered to join the BCS network, including: Naomi Climer, president, Sony Media Cloud Services; Dawn Bonfield, president of the Women's Engineering Society; Deloitte partner Rebecca George OBE; and Dr Frances Saunders, president of the Institute of Physics.
Bacon said it was important to tackle this issue as getting more women into IT would benefit the technology industry in numerous ways.
“When you look at male-dominated or male-only boards, those companies tend to perform worse than ones that do have women on board and are more diverse. I think it is in the interest of the industry to get more women on board,” she said.
“It makes common sense if you have diverse boards, you’ve got diverse representation that reflects society and you can bring more ideas to action, more understanding of society when you’re trying to achieve something or market a product.”
V3 recently spoke to high-flying Salesforce.com executive Melissa Di Donato, who also said there is a need for more women role models in the technology industry.
The topic of women in technology has been widely discussed over the past 12 months, with prominent female figures in the industry and politics declaring the tide is turning for women looking to get into the technology industry.
If 2014 was a year of discussion, then 2015 looks to be a year of action; Intel has dedicated $300m to expand the diversity of its workforce by 2020, including hiring more women and workers from underrepresented minorities.
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