TORONTO – Keeping with the spirit of International Women’s Day, the Canadian Information Processing Society’s (CIPS) Friday launched a Women in IT initiative.

Subtitled “”From Cyberspace to Outer Space,”” the day-long event

was established in conjunction with a variety of industry and educational players at Ryerson University. Featuring several notable speakers, in addition to about

the purpose of the series of keynote speeches, which were given to an audience of about 500 female high school students, was to encourage young women to pursue careers in IT.

“There’s a real disparity between technology programs and other traditional professional trade programs (such as engineering),” said Karen Lopez, I.S.P., director, and CIPS spokesperson. “CIPS wants to (get) rid (of) the misconceptions and stereotypes young girls have about a career in IT…and we want to show these girls that computer technology is not only about wires.”

According to CIPS, women make up only 15 to 20 per cent of all students enrolled in computer technology programs at the university level in this country. By introducing female students to women who boast successful IT-related careers, the organizers said they hope to encourage young women to seriously consider following their example.

Wendy Cukier, a professor at Ryerson’s school of information technology management, said young women are more likely to be attracted to IT if they understand what technology can do for people in the real world.

“You do want to encourage girls to enter computer science and engineering, those are very important initiatives. I think the other thing that has a lot of potential is (that) young women are more likely to become interested in programs and jobs where they are actually seeing the applications of technology,” she said. “We need to make people understand that IT is no longer synonymous with computer sciences…all business is now e-business. Virtually every sector of the economy depends on IT.”

Cukier also highlighted the need for young women to adopt a broad range of skills in order to make themselves more attractive to future employers.

“Look at some of the high profiles of Canadian women in the field,”” she said. “”My point is, you want to push girls to get the skills that will keep the doors to engineering and computer science open Ensuring that women in technology pervades popular culture is one important [method to inspiring young girls].

“There are lots of girls who are high achievers in high school, who have excellent communication skills, and excellent project management skills, they understand how to communicate with people. And we know that they can be taught the necessary technology skills.”

CIPS has said that the increasing IT skills gap could endanger Canada’s competitive position in the global industry. According to a study conducted by the Software Human Resource Council, employers reported that 12 per cent of their total IT positions in the computer systems design and related services industry were vacant. Those same employers indicated that they would fill another 14 per cent of new positions if the qualified skill was prevalent. Women, suggested Lopez, could fill that void.

Murna Dalton, a vice-president with the Toronto office of CGI Group Inc., praised the initiative.

“This is a great opportunity to bring together grade nine female students and expose them to the importance of technology and to the benefits of a career in IT,” she said. “”Of CGI’s 13,000 professionals worldwide, 35.4 per cent are female. Of that figure, 75 per cent are classified as working in technical functions. Also, women make up 45.5 per cent of CGI’s management.”

To get the ball rolling, CIPS has launched a national essay contest for grade nine girls, as well as an online mentoring program for teens called Teens-Ask-CIPS. The Women in IT event also featured a keynote presentation by Catherine Casgrain, an active member of the Canadian Space Agency’s micro-gravity sciences program team.


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