Sisters are doing IT for themselves

The IT industry is a healthy, fast-moving and vibrant place to work. But why are women still turned off by tech?

Last week's BlackBerry Women & Technology Awards served as a positive for the XX chromosomes in the tech world by showcasing female success in an industry that is still often considered to be very male dominated. The winners, short listed entrants and those who applied generally, are all prime example of overcoming obstacles, demonstrating that the female touch can be a very valuable one when it comes to IT.

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That's the good news. But the bad news remains. There is a continued imbalance in the ratio of women: men working in the tech industry. And, as the next generation of female workers are increasingly turned off tech as a career path, the future looks dangerously bleak.

According to official statistics, today just one in five of the IT workforce in the UK is female, showing how badly the gender gap is hitting the tech world. Furthermore, just 20 per cent of those currently studying IT-related subjects at degree level are female.

So what - or who - exactly is the problem and what can be done to close the gap?

Time for a PR makeover?

When it comes to perception, or misconceptions, the IT industry gets a bad wrap. Often, the public opinion of what it's like conjures up images of crowded rooms filled with sweaty, sandal-wearing geeks churning out code. The reality is pretty different. Yet programmes that typify the stereotype (you know who you are!) - albeit in the name of comedy - don't do an already-up-against-it industry any favours whatsoever.

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"Everyone in the industry should take some level of responsibility for this. If you moan about working in IT, how can you expect others to want to work in the industry?" says Maggie Berry, director of womenintechnology.co.uk.

"Firms need to be savvier in their PR and try to break boundaries with their recruitment campaigns to encourage more applications from females - entry level, graduates, returners to work and experienced candidates alike."

Eileen Brown, manager of the IT PRO evangelist team at Microsoft, concurs that the industry needs to collectively counter the issues currently at large.

"This is [something] that every woman currently in an IT related role should take responsibility for," she says. "We should all be telling our own stories in a positive way to encourage everyone that we encounter that IT is a great place to work and does not deserve the geeky image that is portrayed in the media."

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Networking, but with people rather than cables

Feeling you're alone in any situation can make a molehill feel like Everest, so it is no wonder that females in the industry are crying out for ways to meet like-minded women to help them feel less alone and isolated.

Often, it is argued that women are their own worst enemy when it comes to encouragement - or lack of it - and that more should be done to create a culture of supportive sisterhood where women acknowledge and celebrate, rather than feel threatened by, the success of their peers.

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