Wanted: Girls in IT

The Hollywood stereotype of IT workers as isolated office dwellers working on sinister programs is turning girls away from careers in technology, an industry association says.

The third annual Women in Information Technology: Looking Towards the Future conference will take place at Toronto’s

Humber College on March 5. The event, aimed at Grade 9 girls, is co-hosted by the college and the Canadian Information Processing Society as part of International Women’s Week. The event is one of many CIPS will sponsor across Canada that week.

Aside from the conference, which will pair high school students with influential women in IT, CIPS is also launching a national Women in IT Ambassador program. As part of the program a host of women in the industry have volunteered their time to visit high schools and speak to girls about career choices.

CIPS spokesperson and Toronto-based IT consultant Karen Lopez says the organization got concerned about statistics showing declining interest in IT careers. Informal surveys of 10 universities showed that the percentage of women preparing for IT careers is still fixed at 15 to 20 per cent. She says CIPS would like to see those numbers grow, but that’s not happening.

“”It’s not just that IT is one of those careers which traditionally attracts fewer females,”” she says. “”It’s the fact that over the last five to seven years we’ve noticed that the percentage of the females enrolled in college and university programs has declined. And we consider that a very serious problem.””

One of the causes of the decline in female technology program university grads is the fact that girls in high school are taking less math and sciences than ever before, Lopez says. Without those courses, it becomes difficult for them to get admitted into computer science programs.

CGI Group Inc. vice-president of consulting services for government services and utilities Murna Dalton says the problem is caused by a perception spread amongst girls that only geeks are good at maths and sciences. Teenagers tend to get caught up in those perceptions and can’t see the doors these courses will open for them down the road. That’s why it’s important to reach them at the junior level, she says.

Another factor is what Lopez calls the Hollywood stereotype of an IT worker.

“”Most girls think that IT careers are isolating. They’ll work alone, they’ll work in a basement, sit around a glowing terminal and, sometimes, even do evil things,”” she says. “”I think that most young girls would have a hard time identifying with that sort of stereotype.””

In fact, Lopez says, studies she’s read indicate that this sort of stereotype is key to the dropping numbers of girls in IT careers. Women, she says, identify computer

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