EC aims to convince women IT isn't 'boring'

The European Commission is seeking to deflate geeky IT stereotypes to attract more women to jobs in the IT industry
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

The European Commission's commissioner for information society and media, Viviane Reding, has set her sights on debunking geeky IT stereotypes which she believes are putting women off working in technology.

By this time next year, Reding plans to establish a European code of best practice for women in IT, to address the so-called "leaky pipeline" phenomenon, whereby girls steadily lose interest in working in technology as they progress through the education system and settle on a career.

Reding said in a statement: "We need to overcome common stereotypes which describe ICT careers as boring and too technical for women, and instead encourage women to succeed in this exciting, innovative and multi-faceted sector."

Reding warned that Europe must address its shortage of qualified IT staff as a matter of economic priority, or risk falling behind its Asian competitors.

According to the Commission, the IT industry contributes to a quarter of the EU's total growth and four percent of its jobs, but there is a shortage of around 300,000 qualified staff. Attracting more women is therefore essential to help to close this skills gap, the Commission has claimed.

To this end, the Commission has been running an IT work-shadowing programme for the past two years, giving girls on the cusp of choosing a career the opportunity to shadow a female senior manager from the industry for a day.

Research out earlier this year from IT industry skills body e-skills UK found numbers of computing student in the UK had fallen 50 percent in the last five years, while the number of women working in IT had dropped to just one-in-five workers.

Women are especially under-represented at senior decision-making level in IT; European Commission analysis conducted in October last year of 150 European companies in the telecoms sector found that the average percentage of women on boards of directors was just six percent.

The Commission has also published a wider report looking at gender balance in the upper echelons of senior management: Women and men in decision-making 2007. Men represent nine-out-of-10 board members in top companies and two-thirds of company bosses, according to the report.

Discussing the lack of women in IT with ZDNet.co.uk sister site silicon.com last month, Tiscali UK chief executive Mary Turner said IT is just part of a bigger picture: "It's not just women in technology. It's women in management and women in boardrooms."

But Turner was hopeful that change is on the horizon. "Technology is seen as a geeky male arena but we are seeing more women coming into it and I think it will be exponential. As with everything in life, you need the first cluster to come in and spread the word and encourage," she said.

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