Information technology is something for male technofreaks, or a euphemism for word processing. It is female opinions such as these that have provoked both the government and many computer companies to group together behind a national Women into Information Technology campaign. The catalyst for this activity is of course the widely publicised skills shortage, which […]
Information technology is something for male technofreaks, or a euphemism for word processing. It is female opinions such as these that have provoked both the government and many computer companies to group together behind a national Women into Information Technology campaign. The catalyst for this activity is of course the widely publicised skills shortage, which prompted a Feasibility Study to discover whether a campaign to encourage more women to enter the computer industry could be a solution to the problem. Contributors to the study included British Petroleum, BOC Training, DEC, Electronic Data Systems, Exell, FI Group, Ferranti, IBM, Intel, Istel, Keith London Associates, Littlewoods, The Post Office, Research Machines, STC Group (including ICL), Unilever, as well as numerous establishments in tertiary education. The ctudy was supported by the Department of Trade & Industry and organised through the IT Skills Agency with help from the British Computer Society, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the National Computing Centre and the National Economic Development Office. Its findings were alarming: the rate of entry of girls and women into professional and technician grade careers in the industry in England and Wales has halved over the past six years. This figure compares badly with Scotland, France, the US, or the Far East, and, indeed, if English girls entered such careers in the same proportion as American, French or Singaporean girls there would be no current or prospective shortage of trainees. The study does appear to have taken academic research into the problem seriously and has come up with some convincing plans of action. It suggests that not only does the computer industry need far more imaginative careers information at all levels of the education system, but that it also needs to consider the hidden male agenda in current selection procedures, working conditions and practices, and in the career development paths that companies lay down for employees. In fact, careers in information technology can more easily offer the flexible working patterns that many women value than can other professions – Ms Steve Shirley with her F International Plc has proved that. One campaign objective is to provide guidance and advice to employers on how to organise effective, quality assured, flexible working through part-time hours and the opportunity to work from home. A second major objective of the campaign is to open up the career path from office and business skills through end-user computing to the use of fourth generation languages and the latest productivity tools designed to clear departmental computing backlogs. This will entail the organisation of large-scale training programmes for women returners with secretarial and commercial backgrounds, such as ICL’s new eight-week Quick Start training course. Schools Connect scheme At a more formative level of consciousness companies such as ICL and Research Machines are launching a nationwide Schools Connect scheme to overcome the problem that boys tend to hog the computers in mixed schools, and to encourage girls to take up a career in information technology. Meanwhile, as part of the campaign a girls’ IT Careers Video Competition is being launched on March 13. As a sign of the co-operative industry spirit that is to pervade Women into Information Technology ICL is providing a secondee, Penny Felstone, to the BBC to organise the competition. She will be using IBM to produce the advance literature and Hewlett-Packard and the Post Office to produce the competition packs. For companies interested in de-chauvanising their operations, copies of the Feasibility Study’s Report are available for UKP12.50 from the Women into Information Technology Campaign’s headquarters at 2 Eastbourne Avenue, London W3.