ICT Trends: The talent pipeline and women in tech
The first two articles in this ICT Trends series [May/June and July/August] highlighted some significant statistics, along with industry concerns, in relation to impending ICT skills shortages both here in New Zealand and globally.
This month I'm focusing on exploring how these concerns might be addressed by engaging underrepresented groups of potential employees with the industry, most notably the gender imbalance in IT.
Women [not] in Technology
A recent article by Annah Holmes in theWashington Post, writing about the lack of women in computer science, quoted her as saying this is a USA national crisis.
According to a recent Department of Commerce report almost half of the jobs in the American economy are held by women, yet women hold less than 25 percent of jobs in Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM fields (Slide 20)]. At the same time the employment of computer scientists is expected to grow a whopping 24 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than average for most occupations.
Other recent articles and papers, both here in NZ and in Australia and Europe, lament the low participation rates of females, typically about 20%, in ICT tertiary studies and working in ICT-based careers.
The August edition of the ICT tertiary Education and Job Series contains two charts illustrating female enrolments in NZ ICT diplomas and degrees by age and gender:
ICT Diploma Enrolments
CS Degree Enrolments
Encouraging Girls to Consider ICT as a Viable Career
So what can be done?
The first issue is to overcome the stigma associated with females interested in math and science. According to a University of Kentucky education researcher "If a female is seen as technically competent, she is assumed to be socially incompetent. And it works the other way around.".
Making ICT an attractive career proposition to NZ girls and women has been the focus of some well known identities in the local industry. Carol Lee Andersen, founder of Women in Technology (WiT) and Cheryl Horo, NZ General Manager of WiT, made a concerted effort to address the issue by showcasing the many different roles available to women under the broad umbrella of the ICT industry.
Tech Angels , strongly supported by WiT, was a Digi-Ops project at Wellington Girls College that encouraged senior girls to be digital ambassadors for their school and role models for young women in technology in the wider community.
PC4G (Programming Challenge for Girls), organized by Margot Phillipps, supported by NZCS and run by NZ and overseas tertiary institutions, provides a great opportunity to promote the industry to girls. The competition, held in November each year, introduces year 10 girls to the concept of programming via Alice.
STAR [Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource] helps students transition from school to further education at a Polytechnics [ITP] and/or employment. The Wintec School of IT in Hamilton provides two distinct ICT STAR courses several times during the year; digital media, which is proving to be very popular with Year 10 girls, and programming, which attracts both genders.
Supporting ICT Initiatives
So what should the NZ ICT industry and NZCS as the professional body be doing to promote computer science to girls and to support initiatives at regional and national level? I wish that I had all the answers, but what I do know is that there's no single panacea for this vexing issue.
The ICT industry has an opportunity to make a valuable contribution by;
- Promoting and supporting visits to secondary schools by its female employees
- Sponsoring great initiatives like the Programming Challenge for Year 10 Girls [PC4G]
- Providing scholarships and internships specifically aimed at females
NZCS, in helping to drive the development of the new Digital Technology achievement standards, has laid a solid foundation for all students potentially to study computer science at secondary school. This groundwork provides a wonderful opportunity for the Society to focus some of its resources and energies on promoting a career in the ICT industry to girls in order to help address the growing demand for ICT qualified professionals.
Polytechnics can play their part in supporting secondary school ICT teachers by:
- Helping to organize and facilitate regular cluster meetings
- Developing and running ICT STAR courses
- Hosting and sponsoring the PC4G competition
Another avenue: Unemployed Youth
The latest DoL report puts the youth unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 24 years at 17.4%. Putting this in perspective, in the year to June 2011 there were 62,300 youth who were not in employment, education or training. If just a small percentage of these disengaged youth could be persuaded that the ICT industry offers a well paid career opportunity then this would go some way to addressing both the skills shortage and the unemployment rate.
Again, there is no simplistic solution to engaging this cohort. The ICT industry, NZCS and tertiary institutions need to work with Government on developing programmes that provide an opportunity to address both challenges; reducing youth unemployment and increasing the flow into the ICT talent pipeline.
A Novel Approach?
NZ is a world leader in the development and adoption of information technology. There is no reason why it can't also become a world leader in the development of a talent pipeline that deals with gender imbalance in ICT education and careers.
Garry also produces a monthly report containing statistics and facts related to ICT enrolments and job trends which can be accessed on the CITRENZ site and published periodically in Newsline.
And lastly, remember today is Ada Lovelace Day! Which women do you most respect in technology? See findingada.com for more info.
Garry Roberton is a Senior Lecturer with the School of IT at Wintec and Executive Board Member of CITRENZ.
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