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Women in IT Jobs

Tuesday 09 March 2010 by

Technical analyst, IT support analyst, SharePoint architect, applications developer, software developer, Unix engineer/programmer... this is a random list of IT vacancies that were recently registered with AP Technical. Nowhere in the job descriptions is there anything that would suggest that they are more suited to a man – yet hardly any women will enquire about them.

Most jobs in the ’technical’ area have long since ceased to be dirty and dependent on strength. Certainly there was a time when it was all about engineers and mechanics up to their eyeballs in black grease, but not anymore. So when those elements are not part of the equation, why are so few women opting for careers in IT?

’It’s still a stereotypically male environment,’ said AP Technical manager, Andrew Cullen. ’We do have some women registered with us, but mainly in project management, software development and business analysis. They tend to steer away from the "crawling under desks" side of things. Having said that, until very recently our own IT team at AP Group was exclusively female.’

Group systems manager Sharon Watchorn pointed out that girls don’t generally sit and play with electronic devices such as Game Boys and Play Stations – or certainly not to the same extent that boys do. ’I got into the IT world almost by accident,’ she said. ’With my previous employer I was in a role that involved project management and it followed on from there. I have to say, though, that it is still male-orientated, as I was the only female out of an IT department of seven, due to a distinct lack of female applicants.’

Lucy Mallett, AP Group’s ecommerce manager, is another who found herself in the IT world without really planning her route there. Having gained IT qualifications at school, she went to university to study sports science before deciding to change tack completely, going into online marketing. Then it was a case of ’right place, right time’ and Lucy’s aptitude in the IT field led to her focusing on the technical side and applying her combined skills to running AP Group’s eight websites, as well as being heavily involved with the jobs board IslandsCareers.com right from its inception.

Despite the fact that there are so few of them, the women who do take up this career tend to do very well. Jane Wonnacott, for example, is director of ICT for the States of Guernsey (local government). As with Sharon and Lucy, Jane came to IT via a circuitous route. There was an element of computing in what she was doing at university (chemistry and maths) and that element grew when she went on to do medical research, writing programs to analyse data - a project that was crucial to her gaining her PhD. But it wasn’t until she visited an ICI-run computing recruitment fair in London, where she was living at the time, that Jane decided that was where her future lay.

She can shed no light on the lack of women in her profession – in her own team of 24 there are only four, and a recent advertisement for trainees attracted just one woman out of 15 applicants.

The low number of women in IT generally is mystifying. Girls are given the same opportunities as boys at school, as Jeanette Blair, head of IT at St Sampson’s High, pointed out. ’In general, boys might be more technically minded, but the girls are more mature and work harder,’ she said. ’And they do just as well.’

Jeanette thinks it may be ’a generational thing’, and mentioned the terms ’computer natives’ and ’computer immigrants’. Older people (and not necessarily all that old) are the immigrants, getting to grips with IT in the workplace, while the ’natives’ have grown up with it, so it comes naturally. Similarly, while the equal opportunities movement has seen women occupying more senior positions in all sorts of areas, there are still generations who were brought up with their sights set little higher than clerical positions. So perhaps IT is no different from any other area in that respect.

However, just as she is the school’s head of IT – and therefore living proof of what is possible for her students - Jeanette pointed out that in her former job with global IT giant Fujitsu, where she travelled the country giving training, she had lots of female colleagues.

If Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto can rise through the male-dominated ranks to run countries, why should there not be a female Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?

So are we about to see the situation change, with women selling us laptops and software in the computer shops, and IT boffins in skirts becoming as commonplace as female doctors? There is no reason at all why not – but we shall see.